Marketing anything directly towards children is a controversial, yet effective business practice. Kids don’t have their own money, but they have considerable influence over their parents’ spending habits. This may have annoying consequences, but consumer advocates claim that this issue creates deeper problems than mere temper tantrums. They feel that the real trouble begins when advertisers start pushing potentially harmful products to kids, such as unhealthy foods.
Fast food companies in particular are notorious for engaging in these questionable tactics. Almost every fast food restaurant offers some kind of special menu option for children, which typically includes a promotional toy.
Watch dogs believe that the toys lure children in so that companies can profit from fed-up parents, which in turn contributes to the growing childhood obesity epidemic. This effect disproportionately impacts those in the lower income brackets. In an effort to promote healthy eating habits, the city of San Francisco recently outlawed toys that come along with meals that are high in fat and/or sugar. Under the new law, restaurants must serve nutritious alternatives, such as fruits and vegetables, if they want to throw a toy into the mix. Meals with toys cannot exceed a calorie limit of 600 with no more than 35% of them coming from fat; a cheeseburger Happy Meal with small fries and a small Sprite contains 640 calories, 37% of which are from fat.
San Francisco isn’t the first city to enact this type of ban and members of the fast food industry believe they’re being targeted unfairly. Lots of fast food establishments already provide healthy options, including fruit juice, milk, apple slices, and apple sauce. They argue that concerned parents should substitute these items instead of the usual fries and soda. This response underscores the heart of this matter, which revolves around parental responsibility. Kids are always going to beg for things they shouldn’t have, and it’s the parents’ job to set boundaries. Happy Meals are aimed at young children, usually between the ages of 3-11. Children that fall in this age group do not understand the importance of maintaining a balanced diet, and sometimes parents need to force them to do things that are in their best interest.