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Unhappy meals: ban on fast-food toys is an attack on parental authority


This video tells the story of a move by Santa Clara county in California to ban restaurants from giving toys along with their fast-food meals.

To many, the idea of a ban seems obviously ridiculous. What killjoys. Don't the politicians have better things to do. But in 2008, it was the Santa Clara board that led the way when it voted to require menu-labelling for fast-food restaurants. California and other states followed.   

Indeed, there is a growing trend to identify childhood obesity as a serious health problem that needs to be addressed by government as well as schools, doctors and others. Witness the White House task force led by First Lady Michelle Obama, which published its report on Tuesday. Its recommendations include restrictions on marketing "unhealthy" food to children, especially by means of cartoon characters. It also calls for salad bars in school cafeterias and encouraging physical exercise.

If the ideas promoted by the White House taskforce, and by other initiatives (such as Jamie Oliver's latest TV show, which I wrote about here), gain in acceptance, the resistance to silly bans on toys may break down. The real, and unspoken, issue is that such campaigns undermine parental authority. The ban on toys appears as if it solely an issue between the restaurant and the child, but it's really a case of the state against parents. The implicit assumption is that a child's diet is no longer the responsibility of a parent. As the Santa Clara county supervisor, Ken Yeager, says in the video, "if you are going to take childhood obesity seriously, then you realize that we need to do everything that we can." In other words, the issue overrides parents.

I also happen to think that McDonalds food is erroneously considered to be "unhealthy", and that it's great that I can both feed and entertain my unruly kids when we take road trips. But whether you love or hate fast-food restaurants like McDonalds, you should see the anti-obesity campaigns for what they are, and stick up for parents' rights.

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