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April 30, 2010

Who’s the Real Loser Here?

Joe Charlebois

This week the County of Santa Clara, CA, passed a law preventing restaurants from incorporating give-away items or prizes with meals – targeted at children – that are deemed unhealthy.


In other words any McDonald’s, Chik-fil-a, Jack In the Box, Wendy’s, Subway, Burger King, etc., that may do business in the county will be prohibited from offering Hot Wheels®, Star Wars® or Disney® toys alongside the kids meals that are loaded with too much fat, salt and calories. The same prizes, however, would not be kept from the wanting hands of children who eat a healthy balanced meal.


This is purported to be the first instance in the nation in which a government will prohibit private enterprise from distributing toys as a bonus for purchasing a specific type of meal.


The county is also the first in the country to mandate menu-labeling at “chain” restaurants, which has gained support throughout the nation to varying degrees.


Government entities rely on information from interest groups to make these types of legislative decisions. One of the most effective groups fighting for the public disclosure of nutrition information has been the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Its efforts have led to many changes over the past four decades in how we view the food products that we choose to purchase.


The CSPI has brought many good things to light in regards to food safety. It has also been at the forefront of many of the changes that we have seen in recent decades in relation to the public revelation of nutritional values in the foods we eat as well the labeling of food products for allergens. But, as with all organizations that are “looking” out for the people, some recommendations become public policy (for better or worse).


I have no doubt that interest groups such as CSPI do good work; however, when their research turns into legislation that limits freedoms, what is the real cost?


Elected officials who have statist tendencies regularly take the advantage of using data released by these organizations as a springboard to institute governmental policies and legislation that in the name of protecting society actually remove individual responsibility and replace it with state control.


This recent ordinance passed by the Board of Commissioners of Santa Clara County that forbids the distribution of toys or prizes that accompany restaurant foods that are deemed unhealthy will affect very few stores; but, as the three commissioners who voted in favor of this ordinance would like to point out, this is just the first step in what is hopefully a beginning to a national movement in wresting control of parental decisions and instituting governmental regulation in their stead.


The threat of childhood obesity and related diseases are the purported rationale for this “nanny-like” intrusion of government into the business of private industry.


Even if some “Happy Meals” do not possess great nutritional value, what business does any governmental agency have in dictating what a private enterprise can or cannot do in regards to promotional activities?


Toys or prizes may or may not entice a child to want a “Happy Meal,” but it is the parent who typically makes the purchase and holds the final decision of the food that the child eats. If legislation needs to be passed to help parents fend off the demands of their bratty progeny, then the banning of prizes is the least of society’s issues. The inability to make good decisions in feeding our children is a problem as witness to all available data. But taking the responsibility from a mother and father and turning it over to “brother” is not freedom.


“Welcome to McDonald’s. May I tell you what to order?”


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