Honor The City Council?

As reported in the LA Times LA Times and picked up in many other news outlets, a county in California has banned McDonalds Happy Meals, and any combination of toys with unhealthy food.  If McDonalds or other food purveyors wish to continue marketing food with toys, they have to come up with healthier eating options.

As you might expect, this was a hotly contested issue.  Parents and doctors on one side, parents and restaurants on the other.  The goal of this measure is to try and encourage healthier eating patterns by eliminating “the link between unhealthy food and prizes”.  Some parents appreciated the elimination of temptation, while others felt that this whole issue should be a matter between parent and child, not the local government.
As a parent, I’m fully aware of how powerfully drawn kids are to the prizes on Happy Meals.  And I’ll also admit that upon occasion, I rely on this as a sure-fire means of calming the kids down (except of course, when they receive different toys and then begin fighting about wanting each other’s prize).  I know a similar effect could be had by getting any number of unhealthy snacks and treats that litter the aisles of the local supermarket.  I’m also savvy enough to realize the risks to my kids if I rely on these sorts of things with any regularity. Concerns over the health of our kids and young people is warranted, as the LA Times article notes in the case of diabetes, and as our military leaders have noted in terms of the alarming percentage of young people that are too out-of-shape to serve in the military too out-of-shape to serve in the military.
There are lots of reasons for this.  Far more sedentary lives than generations past – both for youth and adults.  The prevalence of processed foods that are high in calories, salt, sugar, and preservatives.  More time spent playing video games instead of running around or riding bikes.  The overall health of our kids (and us adults) is a complex issue.
Is that issue best addressed by the government though, or by parents?  Ultimately, is this legislation – as well as the not-so-subliminal television ads and messages in children’s programming about exercising – aimed more at the children or the parents?  It always amazes me how little these sorts of situations deal with the role of parents, and the apparent issue of parents being not very well educated on these issues.  Or else being too busy to do much about the issues.  This sort of legislation is ultimately a wake-up call to parents, an enforcement of what the perceived ‘right’ choice is.  Ultimately the hope is that the parents will internalize the value of not purchasing bad food for their kids because of a plastic toy.   
Does the state have to step in?  At what point do the needs of the larger community or state warrant the usurping of parental decision-making, when parental decision-making appears to be malfunctioning in a large number of cases?  How big does that number of cases need to be?  

2 Responses to “Honor The City Council?”

  1. Melani Says:

    Well, I think it is up to the parents to implement healthy food and adequate exercise for their own children. I don’t think it should be left to county officials, they have a good idea, but that makes me think we are loosing our independence. I sure don’t want to live in a place that says you can’t have a toy with a fast food meal.
    My two younger children have never had a Happy Meal, but we have bought the toy. They should change the Happy Meal to be a veggie burger (chances are the kids wouldn’t even notice) and then change the fries for apple slices or orange slices and then give them a treat like the yogurt parfait…Now that would be a healthy Happy Meal that my kids could eat! Or even change the hamburger for veggie chicken nuggets, they are yummy, too!

  2. Paul Nelson Says:

    Bingo, Melani.  How do we better equip young parents as well as kids (and grandparents, for that matter!) to make good decisions, without outlawing certain things because of the potential problems of a few families?  I think it’s a little dangerous to start making laws that are this pervasive.  Especially without any sort of corollary data that would suggest that such a law would even make a difference towards the desired outcome!  As though there aren’t plenty of other unhealthy things to eat at McDonalds, or the local grocery store!  What’s next?  Banning the playgrounds from fast food restaurants?  Seems only logical, based on this step.

    Which would be just fine with me, as those playgrounds give me the heebie jeebies.

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