Stepping too far–Happy Meals

I’ve noticed that most of my political pieces center on the concept of individual freedoms and government overstepping its bounds. With that in mind, I’m beginning my Stepping too far line of posts. If I find something that hits me in that way (government overstepping the lines of personal freedoms), I’ll try to throw it out here with my thoughts.

And since most of my posts are inspired by something…

I’ve been watching this debate for a few days now, and I finally had to weigh in because of one particular quote. But first, some background… The city of San Francisco is mulling a ban on restaurants that offer give aways (toys) to children as part of the meal if the meal itself doesn’t meat certain nutritional standards. The primary target here seems to be the Happy Meal, the most-loved of all creations (my own daughter still insists that McD’s is the best restaurant on earth).

The mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, has already promised to veto the bill, but the city council appears to have enough votes to override the veto (8 to 11).

The proposal would require that foods and beverages have fewer than 600 calories with less than 35% of the calories coming from fat. According to the article on CNN:

The meal would also have to contain 0.5 cups of fruit and 0.75 cups of vegetables and offer less than 640 mg of sodium and less than 0.5 mg of trans fat. Breakfast would have the option of offering 0.5 cups of fruit or vegetables.

Now for the quote:

I do believe that toys and other incentives attached to foods that are high in sugar, fat and calories are a major reason for the alarming rise for childhood obesity in this country. This is a very modest ordinance that is an incentive for the industry to take responsibility for healthier choices for children and parents.

This comes from city Supervisor Eric Mar, who initiated the proposal.

Okay… so the government is now responsible for an obvious parental responsibility? The article implies that Mar is at least partially driven by his own child, who falls into the 6 to 11 age range. That age range has seen a quadrupling of obesity rates in the last 30 years.

Is Mar really saying that his 6 to 11 year-old child is the driving choice behind the food choices in his house? My question to him would be where are you? Where is your parental responsibility? Are you really such a moral wimp that you need the government to stop you from giving your child a Happy Meal?

My objections to such an ordinance fall into three primary areas. In no particular order:

  1. Who sets the standards? What organization is deciding for parents that X and Y = healthy and A and B = unhealthy?
  2. Where is the parental and personal responsibility? Why does Big Brother need to babysit my children? Why does Big Brother feel the need to mandate lifestyle on any population? If this ordinance is passed, can we assume that Big Brother is now responsible for other choices of personal freedoms?
    I personally believe that personal freedoms should be broad and open with the few exceptions being where acting on a personal freedom endangers or harms society, people, or the community. This is not such a case. This is a hamburger. While some might argue that obese children are endangering society and the community through health costs, this is not a matter where a ban on toys in Happy Meals effectively diminishes the problem (see more in my Other Solutions below).
  3. Perhaps my greatest concern is an issue of precedence. If we allow the government to set policies on what we can feed our children at a local restaurant, how quickly does that expand and effect us in other, broader areas? Again, certain limits on personal freedom are enacted for the betterment of society. We have limits and rules on driving because not having them endangers us. But a toy in a meal hardly qualifies as dangerous.
    Allowing a law to exist passed on something as simple as this is a step toward allowing other similarly onerous and unjustified laws.
    We have the right to choose our lives as we wish to live them within the accepted rules and standards, and this is a clear case of a city council attempting to encroach on liberty.

Other Solutions

So that I might avoid being labeled the Blog of No (pretty shameless, I know), here are two alternatives that I think are better, more effective, and more inline with existing precedence:

  1. Education
  2. Fat Tax

Education is, in my opinion, almost always a first line of defense. The reality here is that childhood obesity is a problem. No one is arguing that it’s not. But to pin the entire problem on toys in meals is ridiculous. It is probably a part of the problem (small in my opinion), but it is not the problem.

A better solution would be to provide education that helps parents and even children make wiser and better choices regarding food. If we agree that the obesity epidemic is broader than just Happy Meals, we should also agree that the solution is broader than a ban on the same. This solution also keeps the personal responsibility, a critical issue in personal liberties, in the hands of the people who are both best equipped and enabled to make those decisions for themselves and their children.

A Fat Tax (a tax on unhealthy products) is another option I find acceptable. This tax would be levied against a range of products that meet certain scientifically based guidelines of unhealthiness. Just as a smoker does (and should) pay higher insurance rates, people who engage in unhealthy eating, in my opinion, should bear an increased load of the future costs. Health care, despite the idiocy of Obamacare, is still a critical issue in this nation, and a Fat Tax helps address some of those issues.

A tax in this case calls specific attention to unhealthy food. It also discourages use by creating a greater price differential between healthy and unhealthy food. Finally, unlike a Happy Meal ban, a fat tax can capture the entire problem, not just a small subset. A fat tax can be equally applied to a Happy Meal as it is a Double Whopper with cheese, bag of Fritos, triple fudge chocolate cake, and so on.

Finally, the proceeds of a Fat Tax could be used to fund education programs related to healthy eating, fund health programs designed to assist those with eating problems, and so on.

Both of these solutions are much better options than an ineffective, illegal, and stupid Happy Meal ban, and they allow for greater personal liberty without the government overstepping its bounds.

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One Response to Stepping too far–Happy Meals

  1. Sarah L. says:

    Washington State started a tax on candy and soda without a vote and also included bottled water (for the environmental factor). Well, it just got shot down in our election. I didn’t mind the soda and candy thing so much, but I thought they were going too far with the bottled water, especially since water is a healthy choice.

    Yes, parents are responsible for what their children eat. Ridiculous that the government is trying to ban happy meal toys when it’s the parents driving the children there and paying for the meals. While they’re at it, they might as well outlaw candy by cash registers and cartoons and prizes on cereal boxes. Where is it going to end?

    More education might be helpful, but it’s really a matter of people choosing the food that tastes better to them when they know what’s bad for them just like smokers know smoking is bad for them. You can show them all the statistics in the world about their impending death, but it doesn’t help. It comes down to agency.

    I was thrilled with the clean air act here. Smokers can go ahead and kill themselves with cigarettes, but they shouldn’t subject everyone else to it. Finally! I can go bowling without feeling like I’m getting lung cancer.

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