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Happy Meal Ban Should Target Food, Not Toys

Christopher Steele |
November 8, 2010 | 1:37 p.m. PST



San Francisco Happy Meals may no longer include toys (Creative Commons)
San Francisco Happy Meals may no longer include toys (Creative Commons)
McDonald's Happy Meal is about to get a little less happy in San Francisco. Nearly all Happy Meals could be banned in the city thanks to a proposed ordinance that was preliminarily approved this week. City officials are concerned that small children are being enticed by toys to eat meals that have little nutritional value. 

This is a travesty!  Taking the toy away from the Happy Meal is like taking the yin from the yang or Batman from Robin; they belong together.  When I was a kid, I loved the days my mom would pick me up from school and take me to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal.  I wasn’t excited for the cheeseburger and fries; when I opened the cool little box, my first thought was “where is the toy!?!”  Now there is the potential for a whole generation of San Francisco children that will not be able to experience this joy.

My favorite part of the first CNN.com article to report this was when city official Linshao Chin was quoted as saying, “the children are pestering their parents to take them in there and get that toy.  It's something that's pretty hard to resist for a 3-year-old.”  If parents want their kids to eat healthy, then they won’t take them to McDonald’s for lunch.  I can’t imagine it being that hard for a parent to deny their pestering 3-year-old a Happy Meal.  It’s not like the preschooler is going to hop in the car and drive to McDonald’s if their parent says no.

Obviously the goal of the new law is to prevent the increase of childhood obesity and to try to get kids to start eating healthy at an early age.  The law states that in order for restaurants to offer toys with meals, the meals will have to offer fruits and vegetables and have lower sodium, fat and sugar contents.

It’s good that people want to improve children’s eating habits, but I don’t think that it’s the government’s responsibility to determine how parents should feed their children.  It must be a pretty slow time in the San Francisco legislature if they have time to craft laws that regulate how fast food restaurants hand out toys.

If the government really wanted to make an impact on how fast food restaurants operate and change the way people eat, they shouldn’t just focus on the kid’s menu. How about looking at the menu as a whole?  I think that preventing fast food restaurants from selling sodas in cups the size of small swimming pools or burgers the size of my head may do more in the fight against obesity than banning toys from Happy Meals.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote to officially approve the ordinance.  Mayor Gavin Newsom says he will veto the measure, but according to reports, the Board has enough votes to override Newsom's veto.  When the new law is approved, restaurants will have until December 2011 to boost the nutritional value of their kid’s meals if they want to continue to include toys with them.

Contact Christopher Steele here

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