The New York City Council is about to take up a bill that would ban toys from fast-food offerings.
They’re talking about taking the happy out of the Happy Meal, for many kids, the free toy is, after all, the reason they order what they do when they go to a fast-food spot.
Or is it?
The toys are intended for kids ages 3 to 8, basically. Few of those kids walk into a McDonald’s or drive through a Sonic on their own and ask for a burger and fries with their free toy.
No – they’re strong-arming someone, usually an adult in tow.
Not Big Apple’s First Ban
New York’s big on deciding how and what diners should do and not do in restaurants (smoke, read nutrition on every menu), and ingredients they can use or not (trans fat, foie gras are but two that come to mind). Smokers affected the enjoyment of meals for others, so banning smoking indoors was seen as a public service, more or less. The rest – still up for debate.
It’s a lot grayer an area when foods or in this case, toys that seemingly harm no one, are totally banned.
They’re not the first city to do this, however. San Francisco’s board of supervisors voted in November 2010 to ban toys with meals that have certain high levels of fat, sugar and calories. The ban takes effect this December. Restaurants or fast-food companies can include a toy with a meal if the food and drink combined contain fewer than 600 calories and if less than 35 percent of the calories come from fat. Also, all meals for kids that contain toys must offer fruits and vegetables as part of the meal.
Childhood health at stake
In both major cities, the reasoning for the toy ban is to attack a growing problem of childhood obesity. If you make fast foods unattractive to kids, would they eat so much of it?
Since not all fast food and certainly not all so-called junk food comes with toys, this is going to single out certain companies.
Toys aren’t new food lures
The first McDonald’s Happy Meal came out in 1979. However, food chains were giving out paper crowns and hats and masks – fake tattoos, all kinds of favors long before Happy Meals.
Fast food companies don’t have a lock on kid-lure, either. CrackerJacks advertise their toy prize inside, bubblegum is wrapped in a free comic, cereal boxes touted decoder rings in trade for box tops, and even banks hand out lollipops through their drive-thrus. There’s the grocery store-layout artist who has got down pat the way to get kids to throw more foods in the adult-driven cart is to put bright colors on low shelves - they’re in it to win kids and by default, the kids’ parents.
Parent or child
Legislating diet isn’t new, either – thought the USDA has for decades put out some sort of “suggestion” for correct foods for our diets – despite it being one-size-fits-all, and it subsidizes farmers who produce milk, wheat and sugar. Draw your own conclusions.
Will it prevent childhood obesity?
Raising awareness of the childhood obesity rates isn’t being argued by most. Pediatricians, politicians and parents are on the same page. The road forks widely when it comes to solutions. Schools continue to see funding cuts and phys ed seems to be a lost cause. School lunch programs have little to work with. Nutrition isn’t on any curricular. There’s little adult education for it, either.
Most will argue it’s personal choice – but really, is a child equipped to choose, especially when there’s a toy, however minor, tipping the scales?
Comments are welcome below.