McDonald's Happy Meals Banned in Santa Clara County, California


Photo via Life

Santa Clara County in California has just ushered in a sad day for Happy Meals -- by banning them, along with other such promotions for unhealthy kids' meals. But this sad day for McDonald's may lead to many happier ones for all those kids who might now have a better shot at growing up with healthier eating habits. That is, if you believe the ordinance will work -- and don't think the measure is altogether out of line.

The LA Times reports:

Happy Meal toys and other promotions that come with high-calorie children's meals will soon be banned in parts of Santa Clara County unless the restaurants meet nutritional guidelines approved Tuesday by the county Board of Supervisors.

"This ordinance prevents restaurants from preying on children's' love of toys" to sell high-calorie, unhealthful food, said Supervisor Ken Yeager, who sponsored the measure. "This ordinance breaks the link between unhealthy food and prizes."

It's indeed an interesting measure -- one that no doubt will prove exceedingly controversial. In fact, I got into a debate over the issue just last night, with my formidable opponent (and girlfriend) arguing, as did those who oppose the ordinance, that it should be the parent's role to determine what their child can and cannot eat, and that a happy meal every now and again is not the end of the world. Which is certainly true -- I was allowed to eat Happy Meals as a child, and it did not lead to me being overweight now.

But I believe the ban is a good idea, and think the proponents of the measure have a point in arguing that using toys to make unhealthy foods more desirable creates a psychological reward for eating badly. Which is why the interesting part of the measure is that which allows such promotions if the food is healthy -- rewarding kids for eating well. Novel idea, right?

As it is, it's tough for parents to convince kids that healthier, toy-less meals are in fact better than fatty, toy-filled ones. That's what I call an uphill battle. It's a powerful marketing tool designed to allure the young un's into eating their food, and eating poorly. I argue that we've outlawed advertising cigarettes to children for good reason, and seen a positive health benefit from it. Banning Happy Meals and such promotions that feed on and strengthen kids' desires for unhealthy foods is in the same vein.

Here, my rival argued that in such a case, it would be better to ban the advertising of unhealthy foods to kids in general, as opposed to just eliminating existing products. Another good point, and that would be a more effective approach -- and I think that banning Happy Meals is Santa Clara County's way of getting the wheels turning in that direction. They can't regulate TV or print advertising, especially not at a national level. But they can tell McDonald's Happy Meals to shape up or ship out in their own backyard.

But you can be sure that the Happy Meal will fight back -- those things are just about invincible, remember.

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