Poll: Will Banning Toys in Kid's Meals Lower the Childhood Obesity Epidemic?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When I was growing up eating out, even at McDonald's, was not a daily, much less a weekly excursion. Not only were restaurants few and far between, it was quite expensive going out to eat with seven people in a family.

Happy Meals and the toys that accompanied them were not a part of my eating-out experience as a kid--just having the opportunity to eat a a hamburger, fries and a small Coke away from home was the treat. For my generation, cereals and Cracker Jacks were about the only foods that had a toy give away.

Earlier this week Santa Clara County California Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of banning toys in kid's meals. While the ban does not go into effect for 90 days, if fast-food restaurants do not make their kid's meals more nutritious, toys will be pulled.

With childhood obesity rates on the rise, officials are taking whatever measures they can to alter this trend. Parents and health officials believe the toys that come with the kid's meals only entice children to choose unhealthy foods. When children eat high fat, high sodium and high sugared foods, it leaves less opportunity to get in healthy fruits and vegetables. Couple this with less activity during the school day and it isn't surprising that this generation is beginning to experience health issues at one time only seen in adults. And with the higher rate of obesity comes a higher cost of health care for the county.

This isn't the first attempt to ban toys in kid's meals. Back in February 2008, Liverpool, England officials considered banning Happy Meals to help slow the obesity rate in that country, although the ruling never passed. As recently as December 2009, Spain also considered passing legislation banning toys in kid's meals.

So where do you stand on this debate?

The studies show that kids today are more obese than ever before and if we do not slow, or better yet reverse this trend, health issues such as type II diabetes, heart disease, liver disease and cancer will certainly be on the rise.

As a parent when my daughter was young we went to our local McDonald's on occasion and yes many times she was more interested in the toy than she was in the meal; but after many wasted hamburgers, we decided the toy was not worth the expense. I can proudly say as an adult she is not a fan of the 'golden arches'.

Parents play a huge role in their child's life. It is ultimately the parents who decide where their children eat. And while many of these restaurants are already offering healthy alternatives to the usual burger and fries, I wonder how many parents really offer these healthy alternatives to their kids. The times I have been in some of these restaurants, I have seen very few parents order milk and apples; sadly, the majority stick with the usual burger, fries and soda.

I am not sure the answer lies in taking away a toy in a kid's meal. However, something must be done to guide this generation of kids to better health. If we do not reverse the obesity rate, toy or no toy, unfortunately we will all pay the price not only in rising health care costs, but seeing a generation die sooner than their grandparent's generation, all because of poor choices.

Do you believe banning toys in kid's meals will discourage kids from wanting to eat at these places? What role do parents play in keeping children away from these restaurants? Do you believe that making healthy menus mandatory in order for a restaurant to give a toy away will work?

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The toys aren't the problem. Parents need to not choose to eat there, it's as simple as that. My mid 20's children whined, but I didn't cave in. And they have come to appreciate it now. Report
i agree that banning the toy will not fix the problem. the food and the convenience of said food are the problems. there aren't enough healthy options and even there were, with the old burger and fries options still there, it's easy. maybe some parents choose these because it's familiar and they don't have to think about it. no offense. i think they should not just ADD healthy options but also make the ones there healthier. Report
I don't think banning the toys is the answer. Dining there less often would seem to be a more appropriate way to go.

On the other hand, sure they seem to offer more nutritious choices, like apple slices, but they are ..... questionable. The apple slices contain many preservatives that are unhealthy in themselves. Report
I guess I fail to see the connection between Happy Meal toys and obesity - Unless kids are becoming obese by actually eating the toys that come with their food - banning the toys is ludicrous. Many adults that dine at fast food joints are obese, too. Does that mean we should ban restaurant gift cards and coupons? No - because obesity is tied to poor food choices - not the "freebies" that come with the food. Report
I believe the parents are in control and NEED to take control...as far as banning the toys, I have issues with that....My 98 yo grandma LOVES her a good Happy Meal...not just for the hamburger, but the toy...she takes it back to the nursing home and one for her friend. It's just a bit of happiness for her...Why BAN them? I know it sounds silly, but Gma needs a bit of happy Report
I do not understand how parents cannot just say NO and MEAN IT!
Pester power only succeeds where there is little parental control- yes have the odd treat but don't allow gimmicks to draw you into bad eating habits. Report
Toy or no toy parents need to step up and take responsiblity for what they feed there children. When I grew up it was a treat maybe once a one if that. People now a days look for fast & easy. Its not good at all. What happen to family time and dinner around the table. My children & grand children are being raised with healthy habits. You get treats once in awhile but its a treat not given dailey. We need to slow down and think about what we feed our families. Make smart choices. Report
Who says your kids have to eat the food? Next time in a joint ask yourself why you are ordering the happy meal for the kids. A simple cheeseburger would be enough. Ah, so you are opting for the happy meal because it has a toy with it. Then mentally prepare yourself that you are basically paying that much to get a plastic toy your kiddo wants. If you are buying happy meals because your kid wants the toy and not because he's hungry, then buy it but give the food to a homeless or just bin it. Report
It's reee-diculous to blame either the kids or the restaurant chains for childhood obesity. It all rests solidly on the parents' shoulders. The government (local, state or federal) has simply convinced the residents of selected communities that they are operating within the boundaries of their jurisdiction to pass legislation banning, e.g., toys in McDonald's (or other) Happy Meals. Some parents must feel this exonerates them in the blame game. But this is the way the blind are deceived into giving up their personal rights as guaranteed by the Constitution. It starts with a Happy Meal, but where will it end? This increasing government control gets me so angry I could chew nails and spit out tacks! (Hey ... no calories!) But on another level, allowing McDonald's to include the toys in (hopefully healthier) meals actually can teach the kids to make wise choices from a young age. Better to learn this at 6 than at 36, when the consequences of one choice in life could be as vital as keeping or losing one's job, and then wondering why things didn't turn out as expected. Report
Kids don't buy these meals...parents do. Is it really becoming that hard in society for a parent to tell their child "no"? To the point that the government has to step in? And we wonder why we have a society of kids that feel "entitled" to BMW's at 16 and jeans that cost $100 a pop?
Honestly I feel out of all the fast food restaurants McDonalds and Wendy's have made the biggest strides in making their menus more health friendly. You can get a Happy Meal (which we don't purchase for the toy but the donation they make to RMH) with apple dippers, and milk or water. Report
Absolutely ridiculous! First off, more governmnet regulations in our life is NOT the answer. Good grief. The problem lies with parents making consistently bad choices for their family. If the parent eats poorly, the children eat poorly. If you see obese parents, it's a good bet an overweight/obese child won't be far behind. This kind of legislation just takes the onus off the parents - where it squarely needs to be placed. Let's point the finger everywhere else except the direct source of the problem - absurd! Report
I don't think that taking away the toy will do anything. Maybe some kids ask to go to McDonald's because they want a certain toy, but it is the parent's decision whether or not they go. PLUS, you can always buy JUST the toy and still make a healthy meal (which is what my mom did all through the mini beanie baby craze because I collected beanie babies but did not want the food). Also, most of the toys today are cheaper and not something older children would care for, and when your child is that young what they eat is completely up to you. Get them milk or water and some apples instead of soda and fries. They probably won't know or care that they are "missing out" if you would call it that. Report
You can't blame Fast Food Restaurants on overweight children. I live in Florida and have a co-worker with a 5-yr-old nephew that has high cholestrol. It's not from eating fast food, it's from eating his cultures food. The doctor told the mom she had to stop letting him eat rice for every meal. He's already overweight and the doctor said he's heading for a heart attack when he's a teen if she doesn't stop feeding him things that she grew up with.
Thank goodness she had a doctor that felt comfortable telling her this. Sometimes it's a culture thing that is causing them to be overweight or the fear of their child getting kidnapped if they let them outside to play. Parents have to be smarter and more creative when it comes to exercise in some areas where they live and eating healthier when you have little income coming in. Report
I think it's a pretty dumb idea to ban the toys from McDonald's. Kids cannot drive themselves through the drive-thru, the parents do. (And if they are eating inside, at least the kids get to play and run around....which is the other incentive for kids to go to McDonald's..they want to play in those tubes!) The parents do the ordering, not the kids. Usually, my son chooses the apples over the fries, but its because I've taught him to do that. I don't get too bent if he feels like fries every now and then because we don't eat there all that often and overall, he doesn't have a problem eating healthy. I'm lucky, I suppose. He usually wants that soda though, but I don't let him have it. I hardly drink soda anymore, but I used to drink it constantly and I'd let him have a few sips as a treat....but he didn't get the whole thing.
This has got me thinking though...I grew up within walking distance to a McDonald's and a Hardee's. When I was probably around 10 or so, my friends and I would routinely walk to these places and typically order a quarter pounder meal, fries, and a coke. It was how we spent our money...Go to the antique shops and McDonald's! Haha. When we were older, when they would do that Monopoly promo, we'd go there and get "free game pieces" and keep playing till we won free food. (just an fyi, they can't charge you for the game pieces...Most contests in the US are, "no purchase necessary") Partly we did it because we knew 1) our parents wouldn't be spotting us the money to go blow on McDonalds 2) there was nothing else to do where we lived.. Seriously, like, nothing. 3) it was fun to be annoying pre-teens and you couldn't get on the playground equipment unless you had food...and yes, we knew were too old, but we were "cool" and by cool I mean, annoying pre-teens. As a kid, teen, even young adult, I was not overweight. I ate that stuff probably once a week at least (and if I was babysitting, it was pizza and pepsi...and I babysat like, every weekend) I was just very active, I walked most everywhere, and probably had an awesome metabolism.
I think a lot of the trouble with fast food is that it is readily available. You can't go too far without running into another drive-thru. Fast-forward from my teen-years to my adult years... I used to live with my parents for a little bit, in the house where I grew up and what used to just be McDonald's and Hardee's turned into, McDonalds, Wendy's(took the place of Hardee's), Arby's, Taco Bell/KFC, Chick-fil-a all within a short distance of each other. There used to be nothing around, but now there is everything around. Coming home from work, I'd be hungry..sitting at a light...with the bright lights of all these places and I'd get annoyed at sitting at the light and decide I'd get out of the light by going right to Chick Fil A, thus satisfying my hunger and not needing to worry about if there was anything to make at home....which ended up contributing to my weight gain, obviously! Now, I live nearby that town, but I live in the next town over. There are no fast food places, not even a traffic light...and I never, ever, go to those fast food places because its not along the way. I DO however, stop at the little fruit stands that the farmers set up at the ends of their properties. It's all about what is available.
I don't know how taking the toy out will make a difference if the family still goes to Mcdonalds! Even without the toy the kid is going to order the Happy Meal. If the kids are given the choice between McDs and another restaurant the toy may tip the odds in favor of McDs but this is the parent's decision, not the kid's. Report
I don't think that taking the toys out are going to make a big difference. If we as parents are smart and teach our children how to eat healthy and make good choices then the toys can't do any damage. Part of being parents are to teach and some of us have forgotten how to do that then we blame others for our children being over weight. Get over it and do what you should for your child and stop blaming fast food. Report
I like the toys. Going to McDonalds was a treat for my children. Every two weeks, MCD was considered a reward. I grow weary of parents that cannot control their children. Instead seek to get a law passed to explain to their children that it is the law. Trust me...I have witnessed it. Be the parent-not the buddy. Your children will thank you when they become responsible adults. Key word: responsible Report
I think, although obviously things need to be done about restaurant advertising and the role it plays in childhood obesity, we need to stop looking at these restaurants and start looking at the parents. When it comes down to it: parents have the final say in what and where their kids eat and should be held accountable for their children's weight Report
Taking the exercise out of schools and home are the most importatant contibutors to childhood obesity.The toys at McDonalds or any other fast food resturant is a draw to get people inside the stores. There are heathly choices for the kids now so the parents need to be in charge and make a healthy choice for them and if they want the toy can be the reward, Report
What do toys have to do with childhood obesity? I'm with Liverpool and Spain. Don't bother with the toys. Ban the crap food! And then do something about the parents who allow their kids to eat the stuff and then sit around leading totally sedentary lifestyles. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the toys. Report
the answer has nothing to do with toys - the answer has to do with parental responsibility. I can count on probably my fingers with a few left over the number of times a year my kids get a happy meal. The toy is part of the fun. But we don't run out to Mcdonalds to get the toy. Parents need to make the effort for their kids to eat healthy - cook more, eat out less, avoid processed foods. Buy healthy in bulk. Cook and freeze healthy meals so that on the nights when you have no time serving something healthy is as easy as serving something unhealthy. Report
I don't think that will really help. Kids that are that fascinated by McD's toys are probably too young to order for themselves... so it's the parents ordering them the unhealthy food. They can substitute apples for fries and milk for soda, but that's usually the parents' decision, not the kids'. I don't think banning toys will cause parents to order more healthy alternatives. Report
Depends on their addiction: is it the toy, or the fattening fast food that they are addicted to?
I believe it is the food: our society doesn't have time to enjoy a real meal, so for convienance sake they get fast food. Report
This might be one of the most ridiculous ideas ever. My family doesn't frequent McDonalds very often, and if we did what would be the problem with my children receiving a cheap plastic toy? Let parents parent. Report
When my kids were small, it was a special treat to go to McDonalds and get a kid's meal with a toy. Afterwards, we would go to the park to eat and they would play in the park until they wore off the food that they ate. My kids were very active playing outside, riding their bikes to friend's houses and to school instead of me driving them. We were fortunate to live in a nice neighborhood where I felt my kids were safe to do this on their own. Both kids are now in college and never had a problem with weight and one is a vegetarian now! Report
seriously??? I firmly believe that the occassional burger and fries, or "Chicken McNuggets" with what ever dipping sauce they choose is not going to adversley effect my children's health. They get a steady stream of fruit, vegetables and milk at home, let lunch at McDonalds remain a treat! MODERATION is the key. I really don't care what marketing ploy fast food chains are using. As parents it's up to us to teach our children limits, and say no every now and again. Report
Parents need to take responsibility for their children's overall health. Children and toddlers do not need soda pop and all of the high fructose corn syrup in many "kid" foods. We do visit McDonald's on occasion and my children get (and prefer) the apples without dippers and apple juice or milk. I am happy to see the trends of healthier options from restaurants and we should encourage this trend and leave the toys out of it. Report
Mc Donald's has the option of milk instead of soda and apple dippers instead of FF's. This is what I order Kieren if I take him there. He is not a big FF eater and would much rather have the apple. i just don't get the carmel sauce. Report
the toys should stay and the food should change....keep the 'toy marketing' but direct it towards the healthy choices not the fried fatty ones...Places such as McDonalds should offer more heathy 'sides' choices. I like how Sonic has changed....you can get a banana or a string cheese as a side...thats great! Report
Wow some of you are really upset about those who take their children to fast food resturants, gimme a break. I have a four year old boy is in excellent condition, not weight problems at all...and we have has our fair share of dinning out. I dont think the toy is the problem, i think its the fries, extra cheese...etc that will do it. Many places no offer fruit cups or salad as an option of side. Report
I think removing the toy in the kids meal might actually have a different outcome: it will take away the incentive for some kids to stick with the small burger and fries, and those kids will end up ordering the larger (much higher in fat and calorie) value meal versions! I remember when I was in junior high, a lot of the girls I knew would still order Happy Meals instead of the value meals just because they wanted the toy. I remember one time everyone was crazy about those 101 dalmation toys, and then another time, they had mini beanie babies - of course, in those days, I think the toys were actually a bit better, now they've gotten a bit cheap, I think, so the appeal for older kids might not be there anymore anyway...but the point is, putting toys in Happy Meals doesn't force kids' parents take them to McDonalds (likely they're taking them there out of convenience or because THEY want a Big Mac), but it's likely to prevent them from making worse choices when they're there. Report
Its not the Government's job to regulate what our children eat! I do not remember seeing them in the delivery room when I had my chlildren. They did not have our children. Its up to us to teach them how to eat right. Wake up people, we are responsible for them, and ourselves, we need to learn to eat right, and get out and move out bodies, walk, ride a bike, swim, do something you enjoy, and keep it up. We can make changes without being forced to do so. Little by little we are losing our rights, its scary! Report
I do think that removing the toys will make a difference. When I was young, the only time I did go to McDonalds was when there were toys I wanted (specifically, the Beanie Baby ones). I would make my mom take me everyday until I got all the toys in that set. Plus, to me it seems that children are getting 'rewarded' for eating fast food. It should be the other way around, children should see positive reinforcement with healthy food. If I child gets a toy everytime they eat a fattening Happy Meal or whatever, then they're going to associate unhealthy food with toys. Report
I don't think removing the toy will impact sales. It still amazes me what some parents will feed their children! Report
Toys in a meal don't equal fat. Fat in a meal equals fat. Kids should not be in charge of what they eat. Their parent should be. If the parent isn't making good food choices, making meals at home that are nutritious, and running the show in general...the child isn't going to either. They aren't being taught correctly. If our young people aren't getting enough or the right education in school they're not going to be good parents over all either...it's a spiriling mess. Report
Toys in a meal don't equal fat. Fat in a meal equals fat. A Report
I say make a Happy Meal an actual HAPPY MEAL. Make it from more nutritious stuff, stick the dang toy in it, and the kids will... more than likely, still eat it! And if all it takes is a Happy Meal toy to get your child to eat healthier, go to McDonald's and buy JUST the toy... yes, you can do that. Then give your kid what you want them to eat at home, and tell them they can have the toy when they're finished. But they must at least TRY one new thing that you give them. That means actually chew it up and swallow it. Not just bite it and spit it out, that don't count.
I'm like most people, guilty of giving my child this garbage. But I do it as a treat or a surprise. We don't even get it for her once a month. Just once in awhile. I too, have eaten the garbage. After watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (especially the experiment part with the chicken ick & making a nuggets out of it) and seeing some previews of Food Inc. (the one preview I saw was how they spray down the meat filler with ammonia! NASTY! Not to mention the way animals are treated & kept) I buy even less of this kind of pre-made junk. I will no longer buy chicken nuggets for my daughter. If she wasn't nuggets, I'll buy chicken meat...cut it up, bread it and bake it myself. (as we don't fry often at our house) I have diabetes myself (I'm considered a Type 1.5, as I'm stuck between Type 1 & 2. I was diagnosed as a juvenile @ age 17. I'm now 32) and struggle constantly with it. I go through 6 bottles of Humalog & 6 bottles of Lantus a month, plus I'm on Januvia and a cocktail of pills for other things as well. I'm sure that my family's love of going out to eat on the weekends & my mother's tendency to over-feed us all (in the south food is considered "love") led to these problems I have now. It's just been in the last couple years I've figured out how to deal with it.
But I say if places aren't going to give more healthier options, or if parents are going to be lazy (yes, some are lazy.... I'm not talking about those parents that do not have a choice at times because of money, as we are there alot of the time ourselves. But instead of fast food, we buy those pre-made boxed dinners that sell for $3.00 each and I add a canned or frozen veg to it. ) then go ahead and pull the toys. Or, parents can stop seeing fast food joints as "my only option" and go home and make something. Go to the McD's, buy up some toys, and have them around to give to the kid(s) when they eat all their veg or try a new one. But like everyone else, this is just my opinion. No one has to like our individual opinions, but we should all respect the fact that we each have one of our own and the right to share it. =) Everybody have a good day. Report
Ban toys in children's meals and they won't eat the unhealthy meal anymore. Right. Because children jump in the car, drive to the fast food joint, use the money from their pay cheque as they worked all day and then, make the decision to eat an unhealthy meal for a stinkin' toy. Right. I'm single without children and even I can see a flaw in this logic. Report
Some of the fast food chains are already offering healthy choices for the kids meals. But, I've seen many parents who will just give the children what they want so they don't have any behavioral issues to deal with. Yes, the restaurants should offer healthy options. Yes, there are a lot of health concerns related to the increase in obesity across the nation. But, parents often give up their right to control certain aspects of the child's life and their right to make parental decisions.

There are many factors affecting our children and their weight/health issues. I sure pray that parents take a stand to protect them before it's too late. Report
You might be taking away part of the incentive for the child, but I really think this is ultimately a parent vs convenience issue. It does bother me though when these companies do any promotions, it tends to be on their crappier choices. Toys in a happy meal...Monopoly stickers on the largest fries, biggest drinks, and fattiest sandwiches. If these companies truly wanted to promote healthy choices, then these would be the items they encouraged with these promotions. Report
taking the toys away wont matter one bit.

with video games and television as the babysitters, computers as the social life, and fast food as their daily diet, it is no wonder there is a chldhood obesity problem.

kids these days are really missing out on a lot of important things Report
I can't believe consumers have the audacity to blame McDonald's, Burger King and other places for their being obese. Let's get real here. It is not their fault that a child is obese. There are 3 factors that causes a person to be obese.

1. Genes
2. Laziness
3. Bad Eating Habits

Nowhere in that list does it have anything to do with what McDonald's or any other place has to offer. I can go to McDonald's and actually eat a very wise dinner. A child can have fruit rather than fries. A parent has a choice on what their child has to eat, not the cashier. Report
I agree with a lot of the posts before me- too many to name. Seriously? We're blaming restaurants and companies and who knows who else for the childhood obesity problem?? How about the parents who BRING their child to McDonalds or Wendy's or whatever?!?! I used to bring my kids there MAYBE once in a year and it was a treat to them. Now they've outgrown it altogether! They say they can taste the grease. GOOD! I taught them well. As with most "politically correct" topics I think Americans need to take more responsibility for their actions and admit that we put ourselves in these positions! Enough name-calling and blaming... what are we...? 3rd graders? Report
I wanted to add one more thing to my last comment... PARENTS for godsakes learn to cook... this will eliminate alot of this nonsense in the first place. When you make your own meals then you know how much fat and sugar you put in it. Stop with all this laziness. (this applies to those parents who take themselves and their kids out for fast food everyday for all meals). Report
I could have sworn that McDonalds as well as other fast food restuarants had healthy options on their kids menu. I mean I know that you can substitue the fries for apple slices and the small soft drink for milk or some kind of juice box.... This is stupid to remove the toys from kids meals, they have abslutely nothing to do with the appeal of the meal in the first place. And why are we blaming fast food for the reason why kids are obese, how about we place blame were it belongs.... THE PARENTS... parents control their kids diets not the children. My son is three years old and to this day he has never had soda, he only really cares for candy when other kids have it (which is usually around the holidays). Yes it is true that kids mimick their parents diet, but as a parent you need to be introducing your children to fruits and vegatables, that is not even hard. My rule is just because I don't like something doesnot mean that my son shouldn't at least try it. I really don't care for tomato for example, but my son will eat them like their apples....

How about this for an idea or suggestion.... How about parents take control of raising their children and stop waiting for the government to tell you what to do next... they are in fact a part of you, so why not make it known.

I don't think taking the toy away will solve the problem, but will hurt those parents who only take their kids to these places as an occassional treat (a cheap one!).
Maybe more of these places need the jungle gyms that most McDonalds have, so the kids can get some exercise. My son would rather play on that than play with the toy anyway. I know some will disagree because of germs and such, but kids in school are subject to all the same germs anyway. Report
I hope it works, but our kids and our parents need to reshape their thinking first. A healthy diet is a choice to live better and removing a toy will not remove the other fatty and unhealthy options from the menu. Report
I think the toys are a draw for both kids and parents. Mostly it is the ease of the food that gets people there. Get me some 'fast' healthy food and I'll go there. Report
The parent is buying the meal not the kid. Parent should lead by example. Or the kid goes hungry. Report
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