The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has gone too far. The nanny state food cops now want to take the "happy" out of Happy Meals.
In a press conference at the National Press Club, CSPI took to the podium and threatened to file a lawsuit against McDonald's for including toys in their happy meals. They described the small plastic treats as "advertisements" that are "unfairly and deceptively" marketed towards children.
CSPI has finally figured out the nation's biggest problem. No, it's not oil spills or terrorism or the exploding national debt.
It's Barbie and GI Joe. Or, rather, the miniature versions of the same packaged with Happy Meals.
The push for Morose Meals shows the food police at their most ridiculous. Instead of relying on parents to make responsible choices for their kids, the government has decided that adults are just too weak-willed to stand up to their kids. Whatever happened to "Just Say No"?
That's the heart of the issue here. In a letter accompanying the announcement, CSPI's litigation director wrote that "children will pester their parents to take them to McDonald's" where "they are more than likely to receive a meal that is too high in calories, saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium." Imagine that! Three-year-olds aren't health-conscious.
But their parents are, or at least they should be. Parents know what their kids are consuming – they're driving them to the restaurant, ordering the food for them, and plunking down their cold, hard cash. Shouldn't we entrust them to decide what is appropriate for their young ones?
The ironic thing is that restaurants have already taken the initiative to offer healthier choices. Milk can replace soft drinks. Apple slices are now an alternative to fries.
Of course, this would take some action on the part of our parents. But according to CSPI, parents are simply too lazy or too scared of their children to put healthier options in front of them.
The interesting thing about kid's meals is that they provide kid-sized portions. A hamburger Happy Meal, with fries and a Diet Coke, has only 510 calories. With apple slices replacing fries that number drops to 295 calories.
The facts aren't on CSPI's side. There is absolutely no evidence that banning toys – or even entire fast food restaurants — does anything to curb childhood obesity.
As far back as the 1950's, Howdy Doody and Mr. Bluster were flacking for Twinkies, Three Musketeers, and Tootsie Roll Pops, yet kids were fit and healthy. The gang from the Super Circus (remember them?) sold kids on Three Musketeers and Snickers bars. This was long before the obesity epidemic was underway, the cause of which has far more to do with sedentary distractions like PlayStation 3s and personal computers than advertisements on TV or little plastic toys.
Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) found last year that "living near a fast food outlet had little effect on weight." Instead, IUPUI found that living near recreational areas – like fitness centers, kickball diamonds, and volleyball nets –affects the body mass of children. Living near one of those play areas correlated to a three to six pound loss in an eight-year-old boy.
Let the kids have their toys. Trust parents to watch out for their health. And let's hope that CSPI can find something more serious to do this summer.
J. Justin Wilson is the Senior Research Analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices.