San Francisco Denies Parents Right to Choose

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Last week, San Francisco became the first major city to make Happy Meals illegal.

The city passed an ordinance forbidding the inclusion of a free toy in any children’s meal that contains more than set levels of calories, fat, and sugar. The standards ban most McDonald’s Happy Meals as they are now served in restaurants.

Under the new law, fast-food kids meals also must contain fruits, vegetables and beverages without excessive fat or sugar to qualify for toy inclusion.

A McDonald’s spokesperson, however, says the law will take the joy out of the Happy Meal.

The measure starts next December. So, as of Dec. 20, 2011, San Francisco restaurants will no longer be able to offer free toys with meals containing higher levels of calories, sugar and fat.

CNN reports that the proposed ordinance is part of a “food justice movement.” To be sure, McDonald’s kids lunch isn’t the only target here. About 50 fast-food restaurants in the San Francisco area use giveaway toys, according to CNN.

I know that childhood obesity is an epidemic in our country. And I know being overweight at a young age has serious repercussions for children’s health for the rest of their lives. I know that obesity costs Americans millions of dollars a year in health care bills.

But I also know that parents are the first authorities over their children. Not the state.

This news story reminds me of a doctor’s visit I once had for a routine checkup for my then 6-year-old son.

“And you know,” the young physician assistant lectured him, “that you should NEVER drink soda or have sugary snacks.”

“Except as a treat sometimes,” I interrupted.

She looked surprised that I dared to correct her. Wasn’t it her job to decide what my son’s diet should be (my very slight and if anything underweight son, I should add)?

Well no, it’s not. And it’s not the city of San Francisco’s job either. It’s a parent’s job.

If states and schools and doctors want to educate parents about childhood obesity and encourage healthy eating and physical activity beginning at a young age, I’m all for it.

But deciding that Happy Meals are the enemy and usurping competent parents’ rights to choose what’s best for their children is not only insulting. In this case, I am convinced it is futile.