Fast food toy ban unreasonable

May 7, 2010 — by Vijay Menon

Many children across Santa Clara County were frowning in April when it became the first area in America to ban the sale of toys with unhealthy fast food meals. That’s right kids—no more Happy Meals.

County supervisors, who passed the measure by the slimmest of margins on a 3-2 vote, claim that the bill is a groundbreaking attempt to lower obesity rates in a county where 25 percent of children are overweight or obese. The reality, however, is a bill that oversteps the bounds of governmental regulation and will also prove remarkably ineffective.

Although the goals of the bill are admirable, the county’s attempts to play the role of parents will inevitably fail. Although a toy is a nice incentive for a child to purchase a Happy Meal, ultimately the child is not the one paying for the meal. The bill in its current form, therefore, fails to address the real problem—the parents who continually purchase such unhealthy meals for their children.

In many cases, these parents have little choice. It is no secret that fast-food chains thrive in low-income areas where food at a reasonable price appeals to struggling families. The problem of obesity has little, if anything at all, to do with the greed of young children for the latest action figures. To be fair, nagging children do contribute to the problem, but they are not the root cause. It has far more to do with the societal conditions that breed it, namely poverty.

One must also understand that kids are not the ones with the purchasing power. Even if toys with meals prove to be an effective marketing tool for young ones, responsible parents will not let their kids control them and will understand when to say “no.” Conversely, irresponsible parents will not and economically disadvantaged parents simply don’t have much of a choice. Toys or not, the real problem lies with the parents who couldn’t care less whether or not the toys are packaged with the meals as long as the prices remain cheap.

Furthermore, the bill seems to unfairly target fast-food companies. Such unreasonable regulations are not placed on other companies that produce negative externalities that, in some cases, are far more severe. For example, smoking harms people, but there is no law on the books that bans Marlboro from packaging a free cigar with each pack of cigarettes as an incentive to buy. To place such a burden on fast-food companies is a violation of their right to market their products. At the end of the day, these companies have to make a profit somehow and while taking away the ability of chain to market toys won’t ruin the fast-food business, it will surely hinder these restaurants unjustly.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to oppose the bill, however, is that it will not accomplish what it intends to do. As stated earlier, the bill does not address the root societal cause of these obesity problems. Any minor benefit in terms of lowering obesity in children will be severely outweighed by the negative consequences of setting such an ineffective precedent. Santa Clara County should leave parenting to moms and dads instead of trying to incorporate it into government.

While Santa Clara County supervisors might be lauding the passage of a potentially groundbreaking bill now, some time down the line the benefit of hindsight will force us to confront the consequences.

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