As efforts to combat obesity ramp up, some groups are targeting restaurant marketing practices as a magic bullet solution to the problem. In 2010, Santa Clara County and the City of San Francisco passed “toy bans” prohibiting restaurants from giving away toys in kids meals. At the time, the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board wrote that taking toys out of kids meals is “a sure way to trivialize an important issue,” and we agree.
Putting the focus on toys and incentive items sets the stage for a missed opportunity to make real progress on finding a real solution for obesity. The unnecessary regulation of toys can give parents and consumers the misconception that simplistic mandates and excess government regulations are a substitute for education and personal responsibility. A societal challenge such as childhood obesity requires a societal response.
Toy bans and other marketing-related regulations ultimately infringe on parental choice. Parents have the most influence over their kids’ eating habits and level of physical activity. Toy bans and other proposals inappropriately shift choice and accountability away from parents.
Education and outreach
Improving public health education, so parents can make well-informed choices for their families, is a critical element of any anti-obesity strategy. Truly serious proposals to address childhood obesity should focus on working with schools, parents, community groups and the food industry to educate the public about well-balanced nutrition and the importance of physical activity.
Restaurants and child nutrition
The restaurant industry has been a proactive player in combating childhood obesity. Many restaurant companies have voluntarily altered marketing campaigns to focus on healthier options, and have redeveloped menus to incorporate a broader selection of healthy dishes. The National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program launched in 2011 to great acclaim, and has grown to include more than 20,000 participating restaurants nationwide. To join, restaurants agree to offer and promote a selection of items that meet qualifying nutrition criteria and work closely with a team of registered dietitians to identify and validate their menu choices.