Happy Meal Toys Banned – Just One Less Excuse for Poor Parenting

As you may have heard, Santa Clara County just decided to ban those little plastic junk toys that come in kid-sized meals from fast food restaurants, if said meal doesn’t meet specific nutritional standards. The specific nutritional standards that meals must meet are based on federal standards and recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and the new rules will apply to all fast-food restaurants who want to give toys away in meals.

I’m thrilled to know that the landfills will have fewer crappy little plastic toys tossed into them each year, but overall, from a nutritional standpoint, I think this is one of the lamest ideas I’ve heard in a good long while. Banning one minor issue that skirts around the food issue is not a productive use of time and it makes it seem like we don’t have any self control or choice in the matter – we can say no to fast food.

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Facts: Kids in this country are more overweight and more unhealthy then ever. The World Health Organization notes that an estimated 22 million children under five are estimated to be overweight worldwide. The US Surgeon General says that in the USA alone the number of overweight children has doubled and the number of overweight adolescents has tripled since 1980.

Complications of childhood obesity are many. Kids are at risk for Type 2 diabetes, sleep disorders,  a higher risk for stroke and heart attack later in life, asthma, hormone imbalances  plus a slew of combination issues such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and excess abdominal fat which can result in heart disease.

Not to mention all the emotional issues that can come along with being overweight or obese such as low self esteem, depression, behavioral issues and learning problems. Plus face it, it’s just harder to have fun when your body won’t let you live how you’d like – something as simple as running at the park or going on a nature hike is tough for kids who are overweight.

Obviously there’s a problem. However, everywhere I turn, all I see are people blaming outside factors. Here’s what I think…

  • Happy Meals aren’t responsible for your child’s health.
  • Soda and chips aren’t responsible for your child’s health.
  • School lunches aren’t responsible for your child’s health.
  • Video games, television and commercials aren’t responsible for your child’s health.
  • Vending machines aren’t responsible for your child’s health.

Personally, I’ll be the first to admit that I hate school lunches in this country. I’ve been blogging about how much I hate them for years and I’m sure they’re not helping the obesity issue. All the other issues above, sure they probably also somewhat contribute to the obesity epidemic.

But there’s one very important reason why we should quit blaming all those outside forces – kids, first and foremost, have parents. Parents, not outside factors, play the single most important role in kids lives.

Parents are responsible for their child’s health. 

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As a parent you have the right to…

  • Make choices – chips or whole grain crackers? Soda or water? Fast food or dinner at home?
  • Teach healthy eating habits to your kids.
  • Buy less junk food.
  • Increase outside time and exercise time.
  • Serve vegetables over and over again. I swear your kids won’t starve.
  • Eat healthy and exercise so your kids see you eating healthy and exercising.
  • Learn the proper body mass index for yourself and your child.
  • Learn about proper food portions.
  • Just say no to fast food.
  • Make a scene in your community and at your school until school lunches become healthier and pack your kid a healthy sack lunch in the meantime.
  • Insist that your health care provider teaches your family about healthy food choices – if they can’t switch providers.

The above is actually more than your parental right – it’s your responsibility as a parent. Banning fast food toys is a fun little bandage, but it’s not up to fast food toys to teach children how to eat well and it’s absolutely within your ability as a parent to say, “No, you don’t need the fast food. I don’t care if there is a toy.” In most cases (I’m hoping) no one is holding a gun to your head saying, “Choose the soda and chips or else.” You actually have the ability to choose what you offer your kids and you can say no to bad choices.

All banning fast food toys does is give parents who don’t want to accept responsibility one less excuse to lean on. Actually, maybe that’s a good thing.

All in all I know it’s not this simple.

  • Health care providers are totally slack in some cases, ignoring families who could use nutrition advice.
  • There are families who are stuck in generations worth of unhealthy eaters
  • Many parents can’t afford to pack their kids a lunch – which sucks because they are dependent on school lunches.
  • I know from experience that it’s harder to make smart nutrition choices when you’re a single parent or a parent with low income and you’re tired 24/7 but I also know that it’s not impossible; harder yes, impossible no. Just like the other issues above.

In the end there are all kinds of excuses we can make for overweight and obese children but not one of those excuses helps our kids to be healthy now and in the future. What does help is healthy food and exercise. Basic smart choices. Smart choices are hard work, food choices can be tough and at times it is hard to be a good parent but as parents we need to try because it’s not helping kids to blame all these other outside forces. As parents we have major power when it comes to our kids health.

For now why not tell me – do you think banning plastic toys will make a difference from a nutritional standpoint? Yes, no? Why?

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