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Is the Happy Meal Toy Ban Crossing the Line?

Bans on kids' meal toys raise questions about the scope and role of government.

In November, San Francisco supervisors outlawed the practice of handing out toys in some fast food kids’ meals.

Now New York may be following suit, with the introduction of a similar bill by a councilman who told the New York Times he was motivated to write out of guilt he feels for feeding his own children Happy Meals.

Most people wouldn’t argue that there’s been a rise in childhood obesity and that it’s not a good thing. The number of adolescents who are obese has tripled since 1980 and it's more than doubled in younger children, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Statistics released from the Centers for Disease Control also revealed that almost “17 percent of U.S. children and adolescents between the ages of 2-19 are obese.”

While those Golden Arches down the street might be convenient, they are far from healthy. The typical Happy Meal (i.e. cheeseburger, a small order of fries and a small soda) packs 23 grams of fat and weighs in at 640 calories, which, according to HealthyChildren.org, is almost 50 percent of the daily calorie recommendation for a five-year-old child. 

Most would agree something should probably be done about it. But there are a lot of differing opinions out there about what should be done and who should do it.

We want to hear your opinions, too. Is the government overstepping here? What are your thoughts about the toys in Happy Meals? Do you believe they lure children into unhealthy eating habits? If a ban like this were enacted in Los Angeles, do you think it'd influence how often you'd visit fast food restaurants?

Let’s have a talk about it. Tell us in the comment section below.

Jennifer Armstrong April 21, 2011 at 10:57 AM
Childhood obesity is a complex challenge; it seems like it should be simple, right? Eat less junk food, exercise more, turn off the t.v. and go outside. But that information is not a secret - we've been hearing that message for years. So why is it that more people can't follow the advice? It may be that it's not so simple after all. It may instead be a problem requires significant courage to address adequately and effectively. Furthermore, it may require more than one type of courage. On the Lion's Whiskers blog www.lionswhiskers.com we talk about six types of courage: physical , emotional, moral, social, intellectual, and spiritual. Our children need to develop courage in all six areas, and all six types of courage can help us and them achieve a healthy lifestyle. As parents, we need to develop courage in all six areas too, in order to model healthy fitness and diet choices, positive and fulfilling activities and interests, setting goals and sticking to them, and being mindful of our own potentially destructive patterns of behavior. High-value character traits such as self-control, patience, perseverance and responsibility take courage to enact, they don't just happen by themselves. Courage is a mechanism for switching on those virtues; without courage they remain abstract, and problems remain intractable; goals become impossible to reach, self-esteem plummets, and the false belief that we are powerless to make change is reinforced. Grab some lion's whiskers!
Breann Kline April 21, 2011 at 03:24 PM
I think it all comes down to the parents. They are the ones who purchase the meals for their children and therefore are the gatekeepers when it comes to whether or not a child gets their hands on a Happy Meal. I do not think the Government has any right to get involved and allowing it to do so is the tip of a very slippery slope. Children need to be taught good eating habits on the home front so they have the tools as adults to make the right choices. And, if occasionally a parent decides to get their kid a Happy Meal, they should be able to, toy and all. Although I don't think a toy in and of itself would be the determining factor in whether or not to take a trip through the drive-thru. More often it is likely due to convenience, time and lack of energy.
Lori Hultin April 22, 2011 at 11:23 PM
The problem is, the toys are being marketed directly to children. This is the same problem we had years ago with cigarette companies and most recently with the vendors behind the combination caffeine/alcoholic beverages directing their ads towards teens. McDonald's has savvy marketers - they know a toy tie in sells more Happy Meals, because when kids see commercials for a toy linked to, say, their favorite Disney movie, they are much more likely to ask their parents for. And when they have their own money, as teens, the habits they adopted as children are likely to continue. Agree that parents need to take responsibility then for saying "no" and giving healthy choices to their kids, but the fact is - in so many instances, it isn't happening. The U.S. has fallen behind other countries in many categories, but unfortunately, one area where we lead is in childhood obesity. I'm a firm believer in the "it takes a village." approach. Schools, communities, parents and yes - marketeers - need to come together to do the right thing by our kids. If the toys were being included in "healthful" happy meals with fruits and veggies, that balanced the fries and burgers, perhaps, it would be different. However, at this stage, we need some kind of regulation on what can be marketed to our youngest and most vulnerable consumers. I'm not sure if banning the toys from the Happy Meals altogether is the right way to go, but clearly something needs to be done.
Classic_Film April 26, 2011 at 04:31 AM
Nanny State government is making assertions about obesity and blaming McDonald's, yet has no concrete evidence, just assumptions, that Happy Meal toys have caused kids to be fat. If children are so easily lured by a toy, why hasn't spinach or beets companies taken advantage of this ease to brainwash? I blame video games. And TV. And text messaging. And anything with rap music or Michael Moore associated with it. Ban them all, criminalize them. Kids will start running and playing again outdoors and lose the weight brought on by mindless inactivity! Unless the Nanny State bans Wiffle Ball, kickball, Red Rover, and other sports as "too dangerous," which is what is happening in NY. Then we will have a real pickle... on a sesame seed bun.
isooi May 09, 2011 at 05:43 AM
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