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Can San Francisco kill childhood obesity?

November 10, 2010
McDonalds Happy Meal

Image via Wikipedia

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently voted to ban McDonald’s from selling Happy Meals with toys. Don’t worry, they didn’t just single out the Golden Arches, the ban covers all fast food joints that hand out toys with their children’s menu items.

They claim the reason for the ban is because toys are incentives for children to buy Happy Meals thereby perpetuating the obesity problem in the United States.

Um… how many kids under 12 years-old do you know that buy their own meals on a regular basis?

Nope, what the city of San Francisco has voted to do is regulate parents. Essentially what they’re saying is, “Parents, you’re obviously either too stupid or too weak-willed to keep from feeding your kids crappy food, so we’re going to remove one of the incentive elements in the hopes you’ll stop making your kids fat.”

Yeah… no.

Dear dim-witted, stoned, hippie, tree-huggin’, holier-than-thou members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, you’re wrong. Parents don’t buy their kids nutritiousless fast food because the meals come with a Buzz and Woody race car, they buy them because the food is quick and cheap. We live in a rushed society, where none of us want to spend a lot of money and McDonalds offers us parents a quick fix, as awful an option as it is.

You want to disincentivize Happy Meals, add a $10 tax. No one’s buying their kid a $13 dollar lunch. But a $3 lunch, hell yeah!

Of course that solution reminds of the argument about gun violence, the problem isn’t that guns are easily available, the problem is the bullets are too cheap. You start charging a $1,000 a bullet, and you’re going to want to make sure you really want to take that shot. You don’t want to waste a grand without a really good reason.

It sounds like a logical argument, but it’s actually pretty stupid.

How about we parents (and gun owners for that matter) show some frikkin’ self-control and restrict our kids from eating bad food? You know what I tell my son when he asks for a cookie before dinner? I tell him no. When he wants a drink of my diet soda? No. When he wants to wear flip flops to daycare instead of shoes? No.

And you know why I tell him no? Because I love him and I don’t want him to get fat, get cancer or get hurt. I’d rather he be pissed at me for 10 minutes for not giving him a treat than have to go through life as a fat load (Daddy already has that covered for the family). I also make sure I tell him why he can’t have what he wants. Not because Daddy is mean or because Jack’s been bad, I tell him he can’t have it because there’s a beneficial reason – staying healthy.

Does that mean he’s never going to have a Happy Meal? Nope. In the first two years of his life he’s had one. It was a treat with his three cousins. There’s a very good chance he won’t get another one for another two years. Why? I’m pretty sure I can come up with healthier alternatives when we’re on the road. You know, like Sonic or Waffle House.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Jennifer permalink
    November 10, 2010 11:17 AM

    ummm…he’s had more than 1 Happy meal. Bad Mommy.
    Also, Just yesterday Sarah Palin referenced in a speech something about schools baning sweets, and how’s it should be the parent’s decision on what kids eat or don’t eat for lunch, and not government’s.

  2. Maile permalink
    November 10, 2010 11:44 AM

    McD is just far too convenient sometimes. They seem to be at every exit on the freeway, even in the middle of nowhere. We ate there far too much during our move. We had to have a convo about “healthy food” vs “sometimes food”. It will be a long time till our next visit to McDs, probably our next cross country trip.

  3. Janet permalink
    November 10, 2010 8:48 PM

    The ridiculously left-wing liberals that I work with think that this ruling is a stroke of genius because “it is the fault of the corporations who do not act responsibly.”

  4. Wes permalink
    November 11, 2010 9:44 AM

    The author of this article makes the assumption that the toy has nothing to do with the purchase of the meal. For him, he sees them as being quick and easy. If that is the case, why is it that McD puts toys in the meals? If, in fact, the toys hold no weight in the final decision on whether or not to buy a Happy Meal, why does a corporation spend the money to place the toys in the box? In fact, why is the box itself cleverly designed with cartoon characters, bright colors and shaped like a present? Is there no added value for McD to have a customer feel anticipation and surprise as she/he opens the box and discovers what toy is inside? Do parents feel a twinge of happiness as they see the joy spreading across the child’s face when the Happy Meal is placed in her/his hands? And do these factors help cover the fact that a parent has just passed a box of “food” that has little or no nutritional value, is high in calories/fat and has shown through numerous studies to contain chemicals that are harmful to the healthy development of humans? I would submit that the toy and packing is nothing more than marketing for McD and it does have an added value to the corporation.

    I think the question that we all need to ask ourselves is whether or not corporations – left unchecked and unregulated – will take the well-being of society in general and humans in particular into account when devising products and marketing programs. For myself, I do not believe that corporations have the best interest of humans in mind. That is why we are in need of regulations and laws to make sure corporations do not overstep the bounds of decency. When a corporation engages in behavior that has an impact on the general health of society (and children in particular), it is the place of government to step in and take action. I think that is what we have here.

    For those posters that are so concerned about the rights of people and how this particular law is infringing on parent choice, I would suggest you also turn your attention to another law that just passed in SF making it illegal to sit or lie on a sidewalk between the hours of 7am and 11pm. It seems to me that such a law has a greater impact on the rights of citizens than banning a toy from a meal. But I guess when there is no corporate machine marketing the benefits sitting through advertising, it is much more difficult to get worked up about an issue.

    -Wes
    SF

  5. EDL permalink
    November 11, 2010 10:54 AM

    Let me start by saying I am left wing liberal. And I think this law stinks.

    Banks need regulating, oil companies need regulating, mines need regulating… but for the love of all that is holy, stop trying to tell me what to eat.

    Ask any parent if they know McDonalds is an unhealthy choice, 99% would say yes. So why do they do it? For convenience or because they are so excited to get the toy for their child and just can’t say no? Isn’t that the parents fault for being weak parents?

    Yes, the big bad company is marketing to children. Children don’t have wallets. I’m pretty sure Jack isn’t tall enough to belly up to the counter and ask for his Big Mac.

    McDonalds has been around for a while. And they’ve been offering toys for at least the last 30 years. So why have parents become so ineffective NOW.

    I’m far more concerned with prepared food sold in grocery stores that claim to be healthy but are filled with crap that people aren’t aware of. How about some true food labelling there. And then it is up to individuals to make a choice not to be stupid.

    There’s a lot that children need to be saved from. Help parents with resources and tools to be good parents rather than concentrating on stupid laws.

  6. Wes permalink
    November 11, 2010 4:59 PM

    EDL> Thanks for the post.

    Do you think that the toys have a net positive effect on the profitability of McD? Or do you think McD just puts them there to be nice?

    The reason I ask this question to try and understand part of your post. You state that if one was to “Ask any parent if they know McDonalds is an unhealthy choice, 99% would say yes.” So that begs the question> Is the toy a contributing factor in the reason that parents continue to pump the unhealthy food into their children? I think it is.

    The current generation of parents have grown up under the watchful eye of the McD marketing machine. Whether they like to admit it or not, there are certain subconscious elements that play on the mind when making choices. That is why advertising/marketing is such big business. It is not always the overt message that one reacts to – quite the opposite.

    I put forth the proposition that the toy that is included with the Happy Meal is having an impact on decisions made by the parents. And I am willing to bet that the sales of happy Meals fall after the ban is in place.

    If the toy has no bearing, the sales should stay the same. If it is as you and the author think and that this is just a matter of convenience and time, removing the toy will have no impact on sales.

    (As a side note, I live in SF. The majority of McDs here are not drive through. In fact, most people who live in SF do not drive on a daily basis. So that means going to McD is not as easy as jumping off the highway an exit early or swinging by on your way home. It is quite a chore. It is easier to buy a fresh apple at the corner market than it is to walk a few blocks to McD. I know this is not the case in other parts of the US, but I want to make you aware of the physical layout of SF. To claim that parents are buying Happy Meals because of ease in a place like SF is a little bit off base).

  7. EDL permalink
    November 11, 2010 10:07 PM

    Wes, I am in marketing, I do know that the toy is there to attract children. Hence my comment that they are marketing to children. It is up to the parents to have a spine. And as I also said, McDonalds has been putting toys in their meals for more than 30 years.

    The author of the article is of a certain age and would have grown up in that watchful marketing eye you mentioned. And yet he has learned the word that parents seem to have forgotten. “NO”. And I’m betting when Jack is a bit older, the other words he’ll hear are “get off the computer and get outside. We’re going for a bike ride.” Parenting. Parents need to take responsibility and stop looking for others to blame and claim helplessness.

    Although I am a card carrying (Canadian) liberal, I am not a fan of the nanny state. I’d rather see time and effort spent on eliminating child poverty and ensuring everyone has access to health care.

  8. Wes permalink
    November 11, 2010 10:50 PM

    EDL>

    I am glad that we both agree that McD is marketing something inherently bad and targeting children with the marketing campaign. And while it is a noble notion to want parents to have a spine, the insidious nature of marketing makes the job of parenting all that tougher.

    As a society, we have decided that certain things should not be marketed to children (see: Joe Camel). I think this is another case of a community deciding it has had enough and does not want the corporation to target the impressible youth. McD should have checked itself. A corporation, bent on greed, rarely has the ability to do so. That is when the government must step in with regulations.

    And to assume this is the only step SF has taken to make our community a better place to live. If you would like to learn more, please check out http://www.healthysanfrancisco.org/ for a start. We are trying our best to make changes at the local level that will make this a better place for our children. One story on SF should not be used to make an assumption that the citizens and residents of the city are not interested in higher goals – like the above mentioned universal health care.

    (Another side note: You may want to check out this article and remember it the next time you think about handing McD to your child or putting it in your own mouth. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101108140917.htm)

  9. Wes permalink
    November 11, 2010 11:09 PM

    And if you woudl like to see the BOS meeting, you can check it out here:
    http://sanfrancisco.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=12&clip_id=10800

    I suggest that any person interested listen to the BOS and the reasoning directly and not what you see/hear/read via mass media news outlets.

  10. November 11, 2010 11:18 PM

    Thank you all for reading this blog post and commenting on it so eloquently. I am a firm believer in passionate debate, not posturing, but actual back and forth. Wes and EDL you both make good points. I’m certainly not naive enough to think that major corporations don’t spend a lot of time and money trying to figure out a way to inexpensively separate money from the pocketbooks of parents by using incentives like cheap food and trinket giveaways targeted at their children. And just as certainly many parents are taken in by this effective marketing and pricing. However, corporations are praying on the weakness of parents. And that’s the real issue. It’s not that the corporations are preying on us, its that we’re allowing ourselves to be preyed on.

    During a recent PR class, I was asked if I had ever been influenced to buy something based on an advertisement. I was able to proudly announce that I had not. Before I spend money on a purchase or service I look into just how good it is versus its competitors. It took me 6 months to decide on which smartphone I would buy, 9 months to decided on a new vehicle, I’m in month 12 deciding on a new TV (definitely plasma, probably a Panasonic, most likely 46″ but may bump up to 51″). And I use the same patient examination on small products too – not quite ripe bananas, low-fat ice cream, 2% milk vs. coconut milk, routes to new destinations, chimney sweeps, etc.

    I want everyone to think like that, to examine the manner in which they make choices and how it impacts themselves and their families. What I don’t want is for the state to do it for them. I shouldn’t need governments to tell me how to raise my kids healthy. I need governments to maintain infrastructure, provide services and keep law & order. We need to get across to people why it’s in our best interests to use alternative fuel sources, to retain manufacturing jobs locally, to limit waste and show compassion to those different than ourselves.

    Is that ever going to happen? I don’t know. But I think people are more successful and more motivated to do whats right when the benefits are explained to them as opposed to forced compliance through legislation. I didn’t need a policy to tell me to use a headset when driving, I was doing that 5+ years before any law was passed. It just made good sense.

    Is this pie in the sky? Perhaps, but that doesn’t make it wrong. We need to be better teachers, not hall monitors.

  11. Wes permalink
    November 14, 2010 1:40 AM

    Hi Mike.

    Please understand that I am not trying to attack you here. I merely would like to point out how I view the marketing machine of the corporate world and how it has an impact on each of us. In the following post, I do specially call out some of your comments. This is meant to expose the insidious nature of marketing and not meant to belittle you in any way. I hope you can read the following with an open mind and not become defensive, as I am using your remarks on this page as a continuation of a conversation regarding marketing as applied by the corporate world. For lack of other examples in the thread, I have chosen some of your comments to extend the debate and I mean no malice towards you.

    That being stated, I would like to submit your comments for review – in particular the claim that you have never “…been influenced to buy something based on an advertisement.”

    Directly after such a bold claim for a human living and working in Western culture where we are bombarded with advertisements morning, noon and night, you state, “It took me 6 months to decide on which smartphone I would buy, 9 months to decided on a new vehicle, I’m in month 12 deciding on a new TV (definitely plasma, probably a Panasonic, most likely 46″ but may bump up to 51″).”

    In all three of these examples, these are items that are not needed for basic human survival. All of the items you so proudly proclaim that you have not been influenced to buy a particular brand, you have, in fact, been influenced to buy.

    Let us take the TV as an example. Panasonic does make a plasma. But would you buy the Toshiba, JVC, Hitachi or Fujitsu? Because if you bought any one of those, you would be buying the EXACT same plasma unit with a different sticker on the outside. So what we have here is something selling you the IDEA of a new TV and you thinking you are making an informed decision on the manufacturer. However, in the end, you will be buying a plasma unit made by 1 of 3 companies in the world.

    The same thing happens in the auto industry. And in the Smartphone industry. The majority of people are being sold an IDEA that they need something, then afforded the luxury of “choosing” which brand they buy. End result: The consumer feels enabled and feels as if he/she has control over his/her choices – when in reality the products are all made by a couple of big players and different stickers are slapped on them to make them seem different.

    Before one can make the claim that marketing is not having an influence, I would suggest that the individual take a step back and ask the hardest question of all. “Do I need this?”

    Good luck on answering honestly. It is tough to answer with every piece of media that you are exposed to telling you that you do. And that you need to buy it now.

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