Healthy Debate: Should Happy Meal Toys Be Banned?

by in Food News, November 1, 2010

happy meal toys

Whoever came up with the marketing for Happy Meals toys is a genius. Kids are drawn to popular characters and love the trinkets even more than the food. But this type of marketing comes a with a price: a  fat- and calorie-laden meal that leaves many child obesity advocates feeling decidedly unhappy. San Francisco is proposing a ban on toys paired with unhealthy kids’ meals — should it go nationwide? Here’s our take.

The San Fran Proposal

Last week, proposed legislation that would ban toys from kids meals unless they met specific dietary requirements made its way to becoming a reality. A subcommittee recommended that San Fran’s whole board of supervisors vote on the law.  Under the proposed law, any meal with a toy would have to limit calories and add a portion of fruits and vegetables. It would apply to all restaurants, though the proposal was written with one specific fast food joint in mind.

Update: On November 2, the San Francisco board of supervisors passed the “Happy Meal Ban” with an 8-3 vote.

Consumer Watchdog Threaten Lawsuit
CSPI (The Center for Science in the Public Interest) threatened to sue the Golden Arches if they didn’t stop using toys to market their junk food to kids. CSPI gave them 30 days — that was over 3 months ago. The lawyer for the CSPI claims the lawsuit will be filed in the next week or so.

Will It Help?
So, would banning these toys make an positive impact on the road towards healthier kids? I’ve heard kids beg to go to places like McDonald’s because they want the toy, but some argue that it’s up to the parents to decide where the children should eat and not visa versa.

Bottom Line: Using toys to lure kids is a tactic that McDonald’s and other such fast food joints have perfected. Some believe that offering healthier fare could help alleviate the incidence of childhood obesity, while others blame parents for taking their kids to these joints.

TELL US: Do you think Happy Meal toys should be banned?

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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Comments (56)

  1. Audrey says:

    I think it is a great idea, and it means no parent (in SF) can blame happy meal toys for why they continue to buy their children unhealthy fast food. My mother always ordered for us off the happy menu, but would specail order everything to make it less unhealthy.

  2. Amassena says:

    We need to see the big picture here people. Do we want our government telling us what we can or can not eat. It will effect you one day and you won't like it. This ban sounds like a good idea in theory but it infringes on our freedom to make our own decisions. Once we allowgov't to make decision for us it will not stop. We need to all be accountable for our actions and choices. On a more personal note, I have children and we do on occassion go to McD and they love the toys, but they never ask to go to McD just to get a toy. A toy is not going to stop anyone. In fact McD is jumping for joy, b/c that is one less thing they have to buy and they will not lower their happy meal price.

  3. mother & grandmother says:

    they shouls most definitely be banned with that unhealthy type of food. i, too, buy just the toys when they are the type i want my grandchildren to heve. most of the time they are of no use as an educational toy, so i do not buy many. we went to mc donalds/burger king only when we were in a great , great big hurry–mostly during the holiday season when we were out and about. i could count on one hand–maybe onto two hands the number of times we ate at those establishments. living on the sea coast we ate mostly seafood – even if we were in a hurry. we would take turns picking out where we ate lunch and rarely did my children request those dumps!! (sorry) fast food type establishments are concerned with only their bottom line–period. not the welfare of our children/granchildren!! (besides eating in the car should be a no-no——-it promotes obesity by having food too readily acessable. —one should eat sitting down.)

    • Guest says:

      Sitting in a car is sitting
      But seriously, Personally, if we decide that we are getting fast food, we bring it home and eat it there.
      I think the problem is that if it is eaten in the car it seems to go down faster and with less thought about if you are full. Just that there is more there and we just spent money on it, so eat it.
      Sitting round the table at home is the healthiest way to eat, no matter what the food, because you have time to feel full.
      Even if you are eating 'healthy' food in the car, or in front of the tv, you can eat too much without realising it.
      Fast food alone is not the problem. Lack of activity, too much food at a time… those are problems.

  4. R Olson says:

    Come on-this is SAN FRANCISCO Dont they have enough to do. If you dont want your child to go to McD dont take them!!!!!

  5. Barb says:

    Freedom is in trouble.

    Since alot of people seem to have no problem with government telling them what to do in every little thing…

    Maybe they could make it a law that you have to walk on a treadmill for 10 minutes before you can have your food.

    Maybe they could start banning what you can buy at the store or prepare in your own home.

    Maybe they could enforce sugar/oil rations like back in war times.

    Maybe they could pass a law that requires all people to join and log in time at a gym.

    The issue here isn’t all about the food, it is about freedom.

    If they truly believe that McDonalds (and other) food is so bad, why are they just banning the toy and not the food? Because they know that people aren’t quite brainwashed enough yet to have the food gone.. toys aren’t as obvious a control measure.

    They “could” have just recommended having toys available for every meal; then they aren’t targeted at kids. Or simply available for purchase. But they went ban happy.

    Maybe another route would be more beneficial. Education, nutritional labels on the food, activity encouraging toys (kites, frizbees, jump ropes, balls, etc).

    I agree the food is not healthy, but being forced into behavioral change by government is not healthy either.

  6. thefather43 says:

    If your going to ban the toys from McDonalds Happy Meals than you should ban them from Wendys and Burger king also. Happy Meals have been around for a long time. The people in San Fran need there head examined what will they want to ban next? The Happy Meal is an Amerrican Icon and McDonalds should tell the dummies over in San Fran to shove it up there Butts. It more than likely was started by the other restraunts in the Bay area

  7. electriophile says:

    .I love how people who are freaking out over "LOSING OUR FREEDOMS OMG!!!" didn't even read the article.

    "Under the proposed law, any meal with a toy would have to limit calories and add a portion of fruits and vegetables. It would apply to *all* restaurants, though the proposal was written with one specific fast food joint in mind."

    Admit it, none of you read the whole article. And if you did, you were too distracted by the paranoid delusion that the government is going to take away all your freedoms, right after the Muslim president takes away your guns and socializes your healthcare. The law doesn't just affect McDonalds – It affects wendy's, jack in the box, chick-fil-a, and every other junk restaurant that offers a toy in an attempt to get your kid to throw a tantrum so you'll fork over your cash to shut them up.

    And the toy isn't going to disappear either; if any of you bothered to actually absorb the information in the article, you would have noticed this part: "Under the proposed law, any meal with a toy would have to limit calories and add a portion of fruits and vegetables." MEANING if you order a happy meal with apple dippers and 2% milk, fantastic, your kid gets a toy. The caloric limitation required to get a toy under the new law – for those of you who don't bother to do your research before letting your fear of any semblance of government control take over your sense of reality – is 600 calories. 600. 1/3 a kid's daily needed calorie intake. That still leaves plenty of room for your child to get their cheeseburger or chicken nuggets.

    And while all of you are apparently perfect parents who never feed your children anything that is unhealthy, you must not be seeing the overwhelming number of morbidly obese children in America. And when you see their parents, they're even fatter. You might be giving your children healthy meals and have struck the perfect balance of moderation, but you obviously don't realize that given the obesity epidemic, a vast number of parents are not so considerate, and their children are paying the price.

    You don't even consider an additional benefit this offers – less demand for kid's meals toys means less outsourcing to china for those toys, which means there won't be as many recalls because a two year old was sucking on a lead-filled Lilo & Stitch happy meal toy and became violently ill.

    But by all means, continue to demand your poorly made, overpriced toys to go with your children's fat-filled food, because you crave some semblance of control. You are throwing a bigger tantrum over the loss of these toys than your children will, trust me.

  8. AnnMarie Gazsi says:

    Yes, and TV advertising aimed at children should also be banned.

  9. AnnMarie Gazsi says:

    Yes, and TV advertising at at children should also be banned.

  10. nikki says:

    I just learned this morning, from a farmer , that all of his sick cows are sold to a fast food chain. I think fast food should be ban!!!!!!!!!!

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