The Center For Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is threatening to sue McDonald’s because of the toys they include in Happy Meals, claiming the chain “unfairly and deceptively” markets the toys to children. The upshot is that the toys are advertised on TV. The children then nag their parents until they take them to McDonald’s to get said toy. And in the process, the kids consume an unhealthy meal that in turn makes the kid fat.
So childhood obesity is all Shrek’s fault. I knew it!!!! You can’t trust an orge! I mean, they are green and have that Scottish accent. And also, they are fat!!!! My god, that’s it! Shrek is trying to make kids into his image! First he is going to get them all fat. Then he’s going to turn them green and give them Scottish accents! That fiend!!!!…..ok, maybe not.
Just doing a little research, I see that McDonald’s actually offers substitutes for their Happy Meals. For example, instead of french fries you can get “apple dippers”. Instead of a soda, you can get either low-fat milk or apple juice. Ah, but CPSI argues that kids order the unhealthier items most of the time. Hmm, I wouldn’t think the kids actually would order anything, with the lack of actual income and all. I mean, we have to be talking kids aged 10 and younger, right? I think most of us moved past the Happy Meal phase of our lives when we got to junior high, right? Surely if parents can’t keep from making a trip to McDonald’s because of nagging kids, they can at least make a trade-off of juice for soda in return for the toy.
But even if that is not the case, looking at the nutritional information, the Happy Meal is not THAT bad. I’m not suggesting that kids should go on a Happy Meal diet. But I am willing to bet they consume meals that are a lot worse. The highest caloric combination I could come up with is the regular cheeseburger, small fries, child’s soda combo. The total calories is 640. Looking up general guidelines for children, it appears that the total caloric intake requirements for a day ranges from 1,550 calories for 4 year-old girls to 1,970 for 10 year-old boys. So the Happy Meal doesn’t look to be that big of a deal, especially if it is used just as an occasional treat.
Despite being suspicious of Shrek (my eyes are on you!), I bet that the real culprit behind childhood obesity is not an occasional trip to McDonald’s. I bet it has more to do with kids eating that meal, and then eating again. And again. And again. I bet it has to do with kids having a little too much control over what foods they do and do not get. I bet it has to do with kids generally not being active enough (an active kid can burn the heck out of some calories!). I have no studies to back that up, just my gut feeling. Just thinking back to my own childhood, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a ‘take it or leave it’ household when it came to food. Believe it or not, most of the time you take it rather than go hungry! I also grew up before the video game systems that exist today. We had the Atari 2600, which was great and all. But it wasn’t something that was going to keep you inside sitting on your butt all day!
I just don’t think the McDonald’s toys are an evil that is that worthy of fighting. (Actually my recollection growing up is that I realized pretty early in childhood that Happy Meal toys were really crappy imitations of actual toys. Has that changed? Or maybe my memory is off, and I really begged to get my hands on those!)