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The War on Happy Meals

John on July 6, 2010 at 10:33 am

A liberal interst group known as Center for Science in the Public Interest has declared war on the happy meal, specifically the ones served at McDonalds:

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has sent a demand letter to McDonald’s that threatens to sue the company unless it stops using toys to market Happy Meals to young children. “By advertising that Happy Meals include toys, McDonald’s unfairly and deceptively markets directly to children,” the CSPI writes in the letter. The Center claims that since marketing to children under 8 is “inherently deceptive,” the company is violating consumer-protection laws in states like Massachusetts, Texas, California and New Jersey. “These children are not cognitively developed enough to know they’re getting anything but a free toy,” says Stephen Gardner, litigation director for CSPI.

CSPI knows that children don’t drive to McDonalds and buy happy meals. Their argument is that kids see the commercials and nag their parents into buying the meals to get the toys.

My argument: So what?

Kids nag about everything, not just the stuff they see on TV. It’s the parents job to resist the nagging or at least channel it appropriately (into one visit per week, for instance, or a healthier alternative). CSPI is trying to act as a super-parent to the entire nation.

Now there are cases where I believe corporate responsibility should lead all involved to making the best choice for kids, not the expedient choice for the bottom line. For instance, I’m against the sexualization of young girls via the media and toys. And I’ll grant that some of the same arguments apply, i.e. it’s the parents job to decide what is all right for their kids.

The difference is that there is nothing particularly dangerous about having a happy meal once a week or once a month. No ordinary child is going to become obese because of 50 happy meals in a year. I’m not at all sure you can say the same about, say, pole dancing kids sold to pre-teens. In that case, it seems to me one sale is capable of producing a long term bad result in terms of self-image, etc. It won’t happen every time of course, but it could.

And I would say the same for films. Again, one happy meal is going to make no appreciable difference in a child’s overall health. I’m not convinced that one viewing of, say, hardcore pornography would make little difference to the attitudes and futures of children who view it.

Granted there are always parents who see no difference between porn and McDonalds (and no doubt some who see the latter as worse than the former). I’ll just say that most parents, the vast majority, don’t see it that way. Most of us see burgers and fries as acceptable so long as not overindulged in and porn as something we don’t want our kids to handle at all.

There is social science support for the idea that American kids are increasingly overweight. However McDonalds (and the happy meal) has been with us for many decades. The blame for change can’t fall on the constant in the equation. CSPI needs to focus on the communities where the problem is severe, rather than trying to eliminate an occasional enjoyment from the lives of all American children.

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Category: Health & Education |

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