San Francisco and the Happy Meal Toy Ban: Justified or Inappropriate?
San Francisco has officially become the first city to outlaw promotional toys traditionally included in McDonald’s Happy Meals. Because of the high fat, sugar and sodium content present in Happy Meals, the San Francisco Board of Directors feels that toys act as an incentive to make poor diet choices. While my opinion is far from that of the Board’s, I’ve outlined each argument below:
Without getting too deep (into a rather controversial subject on its own), childhood obesity is what the San Francisco Board of Directors is aiming to battle. American children are at a constant battle with unhealthy food choices wherever they go, whether it be in the school lunch line or at the fast food joint that appears on every city corner. However, healthy eating must be a lifestyle choice that children and their parents commit to everyday. It goes far beyond the marketing tactics food and beverage companies do to draw kids into their unhealthy food options.
This is where my opinion (and that of many others) comes in:
The decision to purchase a Happy Meal is a decision of the parent. Not the child, the fast food restaurant, or any city’s Board of Directors.
The San Francisco Board of Directors is trying to strong arm McDonald’s into re-engineering their calorie content of Happy Meals by taking away the very thing that serves as their Happy Meal “trademark”, the promotional toy. While I agree that the giveaway is a staple for every McDonald’s Happy Meal, I absolutely do not think it plays the primary role of why Happy Meals are purchased in the first place. Parents are purchasing Happy Meals for their children because they provide a quick meal solution to families on the go and are an economical way of feeding young ones. The promotional toys included in the Happy Meal box are just an extra, albeit an extra that is counted on by every Happy Meal purchaser.
Let’s face it – most of these promotional giveaways probably just end up in the trash shortly after they’re removed from their plastic wrappers. Kids are excited to discover their treasure at first but quickly realize that the toy is not going to be one of the most prized possessions, therefore creating no real intrinsic value that would relate the promotional toy with the food included in the Happy Meal.
Instead of banning the marketing effort, why not get to the root of the problem and ban the fat content that goes into the food itself? A few US cities and the entire country of Denmark recently took preventative measures by banning trans fats in restaurant foods. Now that seems like a better way to curb childhood obesity and positively influence the eating choices of American families than by forcing fast food chains to remove their staple marketing efforts! What’s next, are outraged Boards of some other city going to outlaw the sexy, brightly-colored packaging on potato chips because it draws kids into purchasing these unhealthy snack options? That would be absurd but I believe an action such as that would be, in essence, doing the same thing as removing the marketing effort in a Happy Meal.
What do YOU think about San Francisco’s ban on Happy Meal toys? Is it an outrage, or should other cities follow their lead?