Since I recently advocated legislation that would require schools to initiate anti-bullying programs and dating violence education my readers may, understandably, suspect that I am pro-government intrusion. However, that is not the case. There are times when I believe government involvement is appropriate and necessary; but more often than not, I think our lawmakers try to get involved where they do not belong, making laws that are unrealistic, unfair, or just plain out-of-touch with reality.
One such law was recently passed in the form of an ordinance in San Francisco. There, local lawmakers decided that they would ban restaurants from offering free toys with kids' meals that do not meet nutritional standards. The target, of course, are fast food restaurants that include small toys with their kids' meals. The result, it seems, is that happy meals will no longer be so happy.
Lawmakers have this annoying habit of trying to protect people from themselves at the expense of those who do not need protecting. They especially love to throw out the "save the children" ruse to help their causes' popularity and to boost their political careers.
My kids have enjoyed many a happy meal over the years. In our house, a trip to McDonalds was always a treat for the kids, akin to chocolate after 6 p.m. or staying up late when relatives are visiting.
So I allowed my kids to have happy meals. Am I an awful mother? Should I be scoffed by nutritionists. By legislators? My kids aren't overweight. And they were not harmed by experiencing the joy of finding little plastic toys among their chicken nuggets and french fries.
Do these lawmakers seriously think that the lack of a toy inside the meal will stop parents from feeding fast food and other nutritionally-challenged meals to their kids. I think not. Will it stop childhood obesity in its tracks? No chance. It won't even put a dent in it.
What this law does is deprive kids the joy of finding a cheap fun toy among their food, and parents the right to choose to allow their kids to do so. Moreover, it imposes a restriction that impacts free enterprise for a private business where no restriction is needed.
There is no disputing that childhood obesity is a problem. But to think that banning toys from fast food meals is going to solve the problem is naïve and ridiculous.
First, fast food is not the sole reason for an increase in obesity among children. Certainly, parents who fail to monitor and control what is consumed by their children contributes to the problem. But, more important is that kids are markedly less active today than they were years ago. And it's not just a lack of inactivity and fitness, but the advent of video games that has contributed to a more sedentary lifestyle. I wonder, will San Francisco lawmakers target Xbox next? How about television manufacturers?
Parents are ultimately responsible for making sure their kids eat well and stay active. Family physicians and pediatricians should counsel parents of overweight kids on the health risks associated with being overweight and ways to ameliorate their weight issues.
Dr. Carlos Patina, a California pediatrician told a Miami reporter that "Toys may lure children to meals high in fat, but the practice of eating healthier must start at home. What we should advocate is more vegetables, more fruit, more water and a bit of exercise," which he suggested should start when kids are 3 or 4 years old.
The good doctor is right. Parents are in charge of their kids. Parents dictate the kinds of foods that are consumed by their children, and the drinks that are drunk. Parents should limit inactivity and encourage outside play and other activities that will contribute to children's fitness.
The bottom line is parents are ultimately responsible for the wellbeing of their offspring, not the government.