McDonalds’ Tragic Toy Story
But you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know a fast food meal is unhealthy, and this bill won’t do much to change the way people eat. In the case of McDonald’s Happy Meals, toys will only come with meals that have a side of apples and 1 percent low fat milk instead of fries and soda.
As defined by the proposed bill, a “nutritional” meal contains under 500 calories, 600 mg of sodium, 35 percent of calories from fat, less than 10 percent saturated fat, and 10 percent sugar. Oh, and they have to have half a cup of fruit, veggies or a serving of whole-grains.
Does someone out there really think that anything beneath 500 calories is healthy? Remember those Lunchables we used to eat? At about 350 calories, those are apparently nutritional too! Thank goodness someone told us that a lunch of string cheese, chips, soda and a caramel-covered apple is good for us.
In the act of defining what is unhealthy for children, we’d be setting standards for what seems okay to eat on a daily basis. The only effect of the exclusion of toys from certain high-calorie meals will be to leave our youngest fast food diners without something to play with. So what can they do instead but watch television or sit back in front of the computer?
Those who think this bill is still a good idea should also consider the fact that rather than banning marketing to children, this bill hinges on fast food’s desire to do so. To continue giving out toys, all that fast food giants have to do is slightly lower their calorie count. Unlike the United Kingdom, who has forbidden advertising to children on television, we’re backing bills that will keep children wanting to eat at places like McDonalds and Burger King while putting a tiny dent in the weight they’ll gain from it.
This bill only sounds good when you haven’t looked at it closely. It allows politicians to pat themselves on the back while glossing over the some very real problems of obesity and malnutrition, perpetuating the ability of fast food chains to market to children. If we’re going to legislate at all to prevent obesity, why not do so where it counts — in the schools.
Toys or not, fast food meals will stick around because they’re what kids want to eat… until they realize that there are better things out there. Chef Alice Waters’ School Lunch Initiative combines cooking and gardening classes with improvements in school lunches. Since its introduction to schools in 2004, studies have shown that their students ate more fruits and vegetables and had a higher awareness of nutrition compared to schools without the SLI. And this continued after completion of the program.
Many public school lunches — costing a little over $2.00 per meal — contain high-fat, low-grade meats and cheese as well as other processed foods. Sounds like a Happy Meal, but without any of the happiness. In a 2009 opinion piece for The New York Times, Alice Waters asserted that 30 million American schoolchildren could be fed a nutritional meal for only $5.00 per child.
Our poorest students might be getting their main source of nutrition from school lunches. If NYC lawmakers really wanted to have an impact on childhood obesity, they’d focus their efforts toward raising the necessary funds to raise the quality of food in schools and end the practice of marketing unhealthy food to children rather than encouraging it.
If this bill passes, New York City residents and lawmakers shouldn’t be proud of ourselves. A toy ban will take something from children without either protecting them from fast food marketing or giving them the skills to one day make better nutritional choices for themselves. For those of us concerned with childhood obesity and nutrition, it’s a disgrace to call this bill a solution.