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Just this past week, supervisor Eric Mar of San Francisco introduced legislation which proposes to ban toys from McDonald’s Happy Meals as well as from other restaurant meals unless they meet specific nutritional requirements.
In order for a meal to include a toy it must comply with the following guidelines: Must be under 600 calories and cannot contain more than 0.5 grams of saturated or trans-fats per item within the meal.
I can’t believe people keep coming up with such nonsense. First of all, we now have studies which prove that prior government “nutritional” regulations were unsuccessful. It’s also ridiculous for government to try to control our behavior to be “healthier.”
In that case they might as well dictate how many Red Bulls I am allowed to drink per day, how much time I may spend online and command me to sleep 7 to 8 hours each night. Another reason this banning of the Happy Meal toy is silly is simply because those who feed their children fast food will continue to do so, toy or no toy. Then there’s the obvious economic factor: low-income families are more likely to take their children to fast food restaurants as they are more affordable than healthy foods.
So I ask… Will these parents stop buying the cheap, tasty, convenient and affordable meals just because the toy is missing? Doubtful. instead, now their poor children won’t even get a toy… something he or she could have played with. How about including a jump rope, a ball, a frisbee or any toy which would help the child to be more active, and positively reinforce the fun in living an active lifestyle?
Experts in marketing will always be years ahead of legislators trying to pass laws & regulations aimed towards controlling our food & how it should be marketed, so I’m sure those consumers who were, in fact, “lured” by the free toy will be just as easily hooked via other crafty marketing strategies.
So how about we spend less time, money and energy mandating what people should eat and put that effort into promoting physical activities, get funding back into school programs, offer safe places for recreational sports for children in low-income neighborhoods which also happen to be the communities with the highest obesity rates?
A study done by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation & Trust for America’s Health (both public health advocacy groups) found that over 25% of our population is obese in 2/3s of the states (38). The Journal of Adolescent Youth conducted a study on 6,000 middle school children across the nation and found that almost 7% were severely obese. Not baby fat, not chubby, not overweight, not even just considered obese, but 7% considered severely obese. This means they were in the 99th percentile for weight. Unfortunately 70% of obese children will grow up to be obese adults.
I agree that something needs to be done as this crisis affects all of us. Obese adults are at increased risk for many serious health conditions, including coronary heart disease, osteoarthritis, hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and premature death. There are also the economic repercussions; we are spending 150 billion dollars a year treating obesity related illnesses.
In the past few years, the government has enforced calorie postings, and in many states even restaurants must now disclose the nutritional information of each meal on their menus. Fast food restaurants have also added smaller portion meal options to their menus such as the “Mini Meals” at McDonald’s. Don’t forget the additions of all the “healthy” choices; salads, grilled instead of fried, low-fat milk, granola & yogurt, and low-carb wraps. Many restaurant chains now also have substitution options; instead of fries you can ask for apple slices, instead of sugary sodas you can order low-fat milk with your meal.
Guess what? Sales at fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s are up, but not from the above mentioned “healthy options.” The exact opposite is true; they are actually selling more burgers and fries than ever. Just because consumers say they would like to see healthier food alternatives on a menu doesn’t mean they will ask for them. “There is a notion that if we all just had the full nutritional information on menu or food items, we’d choose rationally,” Gavan Fitzsimons, a professor of marketing and psychology at Duke University. “But that isn’t so. There are too many unconscious environmental cues that prove to be too strong.”
There’s something about seeing healthy menu options that frees us to make unhealthy choices.
The human brain is quite amazing, we even trick ourselves into feeling good or at least better about making bad decisions. We are so good about rationalizing (or should I say making excuses for) our decisions. For example, when armed with information such as a meal being low-fat, we will eat even more. On average we will consume 20 percent more calories than we would if the food was not labeled “low fat”.
A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that the mere presence of healthy offerings on a menu or on display in a restaurant or even in a vending machine can often be enough to vicariously satisfy our long-term health and nutrition goals and trick our brains into allowing us to make more indulgent food selections, ones we would not otherwise make.
We seem to get some sort of mental satisfaction from just having the option, the intention, the visualization. This is probably an awesome defense mechanism we developed to get us through some rough times in life where maybe we aren’t able take action, make a difference and we just needed to deal and get through. However, we are talking about food choices, exercise, shopping habits, lifestyle changes, etc. All areas in which we can easily take action with just a bit of willpower.
The fact is that, despite all the recent government efforts, studies show that the obesity rates for adults rose in 28 states this year. The only state that showed a decline was the District of Columbia.
I believe that supplying consumers with health information is a must, but it obviously isn’t sufficient. Looks like we all just need to actually think through the decisions we make and why we make them. No law-maker, nutritional guide, or pretty pictures of nutritious meals will make us opt for healthier choices in life. For now my advice is to keep it simple and remember both “Energy In” & “Energy Out”. It’s your life, your decisions… be happy.