Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Crappy Meal with a FREE TOY!

Interesting article here from NPR which describes a consumer group's legal actions against McD's for advertising their Happy Meals' toys on television and targeting children under 8 years old. The parents in the class-action suit are not suing for any monetary reward just a change in policy. Of course, the real test of their high ground will come if/when they are offered a settlement to go away. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has over-ridden a veto from their Mayor's office in order to create an ordinance banning toys in nutritionally-poor meals by December 2011.

Shouldn't be long before we see a fair & balanced headline which will proclaim "SAN FRANCISCO LIBERALS OUTLAW TOYS AT CHRISTMAS TIME!!"

It is no revelation that the goal of advertising is to influence consumers to... well, consume more product. If we can agree happy meals are not healthy then it is not much of a stretch to disapprove of McD's targeting advertisements for the meals and toys to children directly. Not sure you agree with the government stepping in here? What if it was caffeinated fruit roll ups or Sesame Street smokeless tobacco, would we ban that advertising? Of course these are far-fetched examples, but they hopefully illustrate how most of us agree the government should have some say in preventing advertising to children for products which are unhealthy. So the real question is: How unhealthy does something need to be for this to apply? Are we willing to permit the advertising of fats and sugars to children since this probably won't result in immediate obesity; if so how quickly must the unhealthy result follow and how severe must it be for us to frown upon the product being pitched during Saturday morning cartoons? Unfortunately, the advertising is effective and there are plenty of parents who may not always make healthy choices on the run and when dealing with a cranky child, so making the product choices healthier from the outset makes a lot of sense or at least making the unhealthy choices less appealing. I'm glad McD's has started offering apple slices in happy meals, but they could still go a lot further in making their happy meals healthier (the ordinance proposed sets forth minimum nutritional guidelines for those restaurants who want to give away toys with their meals). In a country dealing with rising health care costs and launching a national mandated insurance program, perhaps legislating some good nutrition options (or at least not promoting the bad ones) could be a positive thing for the health and costs for our children.

In our family, we try to keep J. Bean away from the advertising to begin with; we limit television and we always stick with On-demand, DVD's and public TV. Parents are ultimately responsible to just say "no" as needed and we are the gatekeepers for our children's nutrition, but that doesn't mean we should abide this type of advertising targeted specifically at children. I have no illusions that the lack of targeted advertising would bring about an end to children's consumption of happy meals and I don't see that as the goal, but we just don't need more influence for unhealthy choices pushed on children. I can't say J. Bean has never eaten french fries from McD's, but I hope to keep it as a treat that is few and far between and sticking with that is a little harder when working against free toy ploys and advertising. If the advertising is going to stay, just make it healthier... Kids are still going to want that toy. If not, just put Ronald out front... the little ones always love a clown:

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