McDonald’s law will not end obesity epidemic

San Francisco is moving forward with a city ordinance that would ban toys from McDonald’s Happy Meals. The city wants the toys pulled unless McDonald’s adds fruit and vegetable options and limits sodium, sugar and fat content. The ordinance was designed with McDonald’s in mind, but its demands apply to all restaurants.

This ordinance is a silly attempt to lower childhood obesity. There is no evidence that banning toys from Happy Meals will lower the obesity rate or that adding choices of fruit and vegetables will do the same. McDonald’s began offering its premium salad in 2003, but the obesity rate still climbed. Making further alterations to its menu will not fix the root causes of obesity in the nation.

Yes, children like the toys in Happy Meals and sometimes they don’t even eat the food because all they want is the toy. Supporters might be relying on the following scenario: If there are no toys in Happy Meals, children will concentrate on their food, realize how bad it is and never want to go to McDonald’s again. But this idea is flawed. Undoubtedly, some spoiled children will still throw fits because they want their french fries and chicken nuggets. But it is the responsibility of the parents to put their foot down and stand up to their children. If they care about their kids, they will make them eat healthier, not cater to their every hungry whim.

McDonald’s is a private business, not a public service. Therefore, it should not have to pay for the poor choices parents make. McDonald’s offers healthier, low-calorie alternatives to the traditional Happy Meal. Parents who can afford the more expensive options should consider getting a Premier Caesar Salad (without chicken) for 90 calories instead of the 540-calorie Big Mac. Or they can consider having children eat their own adult portions that have fewer calories. Or they can choose to skip McDonald’s altogether. When McDonald’s sees its profits tank, it will re-evaluate its nutritional policy.

Regulatory ordinances like this one take the responsibility away from individuals and place it on the government. Parents should control what food their children eat and if they cannot, the problem is theirs. Fifty years from now, will residents of San Francisco be able to take care of themselves?

This ordinance isn’t about McDonald’s responsibility to provide healthier options for its customers; it’s about regulating public health. San Francisco recently banned the sale of tobacco in grocery stores and big-box retailers, like Walmart, with in-store pharmacies. Mayor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order banning Coca-Cola and Pepsi from vending machines located on city property. Thankfully, the mayor has promised to veto this measure because of its threat to local chains, not just McDonald’s. Businesses are hurting enough. They cannot afford to spend even more money complying with futile regulations.

Then there is the money problem. Most people buy from McDonald’s because they get a lot of food for very little money. With the standard of living going up every year, McDonald’s is an economic necessity – especially to the poor. If poor families could afford to eat organic “all-natural” food, they would. The Dollar Menu keeps their children from starving. To solve the obesity crisis, there must be healthier and cheaper food for poor families. Until then, regulations like San Francisco’s will go nowhere.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Campus editorial board at the University of Connecticut.