There’s been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about San Francisco’s new law designed to combat childhood obesity, which would require that restaurant kids’ meals meet certain nutritional standards before they could be sold with toys. According to Reuters, “The San Francisco law would allow toys to be given away with kids’ meals that have less than 600 calories, contain fruits and vegetables, and include beverages without excessive fat or sugar.”
In many ways, this is as much a marketing issue as it is a health issue. The concern seems to be that the toys allure kids to desire Happy Meals … and maybe in some cases, they do. But really, isn’t it because fast food inherently has addictive qualities? (If you’ve seen Supersize Me, this needs no explanation!)
To me, the problem is more about the calorie-laden, fat-drenched fast-food in the Happy Meals more than the toy they come with … so banning the toy if the meal doesn’t mean certain requirements isn’t really going to change people’s eating habits. And, to me, the even bigger problem contributing to our nation’s obesity epidemic is not the occasional Happy Meal but rather the fact that so many children are not being fed balanced meals overall and, because it’s cheap, end up with a diet consisting of McDonald’s, Burger King, and Arby’s.
Still, as a Libra, I do see both sides of the argument … I see the city’s desire to make their citizens healthier and get them to think more about their choices and respect and admire it and surely support that idea … but I also believe it’s ultimately about parental — and later, personal — responsibility. Regulation might work to some extent, but really, we need to own up to our behaviors.
While I like the idea of putting a cap on fat and sugar on kids’ meals in general — and hope it will inspire kids to eat healthier — it’s still the role of the parent to be a parent and teach kids how to eat well and to enjoy treats in moderation. And yes, this might include a McDonald’s Happy Meal from time to time … so I would never support a law that completely banned them because, as MizFit noted in her post on Yahoo! Shine … “One girl’s Happy Meal is another girl’s Pop-Tart.”
Here are some perspectives I’ve read and enjoyed so far:
I can only speak from my personal experience, but we didn’t keep soda or much junk food at home, and no foods were “off-limits.” I grew up eating the occasional Happy Meal (sometimes the toy mattered, sometimes it didn’t) and though I was never thin, I was not overweight as a child. My parents fed us balanced meals the rest of the time, and so a trip to McDonald’s was a special treat (not an everyday thing!).
When I got to be a pre-teen/teenager and could choose for myself at McDonald’s, I would choose the long-gone “McLean Deluxe,” a “healthier” hamburger option. In college I definitely had my fair-share of late-night trips to McDonald’s … but when I joined Weight Watchers, I completely banned fast food altogether (til I gave into my pregnancy craving on July 15 and had a Happy Meal!). While I don’t plan to ever have fast-food be a regular part of my life, I don’t want to say I’d “never” eat it or “never” let my kids eat it.
I’m not a mom yet, but I will be soon, and I believe moderation matters. One Happy Meal (with or without a toy) will not kill a child nor will it make him or her fat. It’s a shame it’s so much cheaper to buy a Happy Meal than it is a turkey sandwich on wheat at a local deli … but as many moms noted, a kids’ meal can come with apple slices and milk, versus fries and soda … it’s a matter of the parents making the decision for their kids.
I think if this law does anything, it will be to open the dialogue up, once again, about the importance of parental responsibility, as noted in this recent article I found on CNN. Small children aren’t addicted to Happy Meals on their own accord; someone has to drive them there and buy it for them. And if what a child really wants is a toy and not the food, well, it can be purchased without buying a meal.
I don’t think regulation is necessarily the answer (there are many socio-economic reasons why McDonald’s thrives the way it does, reasons I didn’t even touch in this post) but I do think we could all benefit from having healthier children. Healthier doesn’t mean never having a Happy Meal … but it also doesn’t mean having one every other day, either.
Somehow, with food literally available everywhere today, we’ve lost our collective sense of balance. A law like this is a reminder to take a step back and think before we make choices for our children — the future.
How about you? Where do you stand on this issue?