‘Morose Meals’ nothing to get happy about

J. Justin Wilson Senior Research Analyst, Center for Consumer Freedom
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The county of Santa Clara has finally figured out the nation’s biggest problem. No, it’s not oil spills or bomb threats in Times Square. It’s not our nation’s failing school systems or our mounting public debt.

It’s Barbie and GI Joe.

Or, rather, the miniature versions of the same packaged with Happy Meals.

In a 3-2 vote, the county supervisors passed an ordinance that would ban restaurants from packaging treats for kids with food that is “high in fat, sugar and calories.” The Happy Meal is a thing of the past. Morose Meals are the way of the future.

Morose Meals represent the nanny state at its most ridiculous. Instead of relying on parents to make responsible choices for their kids, the government has decided that adults are just too weak-willed to stand up to their kids. Whatever happened to “Just Say No”?

That’s really the heart of the issue here. Supervisor Ken Yeager, when asked about the ban, said “You can’t expect a 3-year-old to say there are too many calories in that hamburger.” And that’s entirely true! Three-year-olds aren’t health-conscious.

But their parents are, or at least they should be. Parents know what their kids are consuming—they’re driving them to the restaurant, ordering the food for them, and plunking down their cold, hard cash. Shouldn’t we entrust them to decide just what is appropriate for their young ones? Are ever-expanding government regulations really the answer here?

The ironic thing is that restaurants have already taken the initiative to offer healthier choices. Milk can replace soft drinks. Apple slices are now an alternative to fries.

Of course, this would take some action on the part of our parents. And if the Santa Clara supervisors are to be believed, parents are simply too lazy or too scared of their children to put healthier options in front of them.

The interesting thing about kid’s meals is that they provide kid-sized portions. A hamburger Happy Meal, with fries and a Diet Coke, has only 510 calories. With apple slices replacing fries that number drops to 295 calories. A “No. 1” at McDonalds is anchored by a Big Mac; that sandwich alone has 560 calories. A “No. 1” at Burger King is even worse for the kids: The Whopper contains 670 calories.

Do we want to push kids away from child-sized portions and toward adult portions?

Facts and figures probably won’t convince the supervisors to change their mind anyway since it’s obvious that they aren’t keeping up with the latest data: There is absolutely no evidence that banning toys—or even entire fast food restaurants—does anything to curb childhood obesity.

Intuitively, this makes sense. Cartoon pitchmen were around long before the obesity “epidemic” was scaring parents into making their kids eat right. Caloric input, after all, is only half of the equation when it comes to weight gain.

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) found last year that “living near a fast food outlet had little effect on weight.” Instead, IUPUI found that living near recreational areas—like fitness centers, kickball diamonds, and volleyball nets—affects the body mass of children. Living near one of those play areas correlated to a three to six pound loss in an 8-year-old boy.

Let the kids have their toys and trust parents to watch out for their health. Dinnertime should be a celebration and a fun family occasion, not a time to hand out Morose Meals to our nation’s youngsters.

J. Justin Wilson is the Senior Research Analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices.