The Plastic Millennium Falcon Skinner Box

Yesterday, according to CNN, Santa Clara County supervisors voted 3-2 to ban toys as promotions in meals with more than 485 calories.

On the face of it, this wouldn’t seem to be that effective. After all, my kid doesn’t drag me to McDonalds to eat fat and sugar. I drag her there myself because *I* want fat and sugar. I basically then buy her whatever “kid’s meal” they have. The only thing this law would do on the surface would deprive her of her toy.

There’s more going on here, though:

“This ordinance breaks the link between unhealthy food and prizes,” Yeager said. “Under this ordinance, restaurants are still permitted to give out toys. This ordinance merely imposes very specific, common-sense nutrition standards for children’s meals that are linked to these incentives.”

In order to comply with this law, McDonalds will most likely simply react by reducing the calorie count of Happy Meals on a store-by-store basis where these laws are in effect. The toys and the brightly-colored packaging are the main thing they’re selling. The parent sees the box and says, “Yeah, okay, I’ll buy that.”

I’ve yet to see a parent say, “No! I’m not getting you a Happy Meal. You’re going to get an Angus Burger.” That’s be kind of funny, but it just doesn’t happen. We’re the ones with the wallets, not our kids. We’re the ones they’re marketing to.

My one question is whether calorie count is really the best way to measure how healthy a meal is. Couldn’t they simply serve bad food in smaller portions and make it under the calorie count? If I saw McDonalds as an evil corporation out to make a quick buck by making folks fat, that’s what I’d suspect. Then again, I’m not a nutritionist.

Still, the basic idea is that they’re using behavior modification on children. The lawmakers have stated, very clearly, that they’re using rewards to develop good eating habits.

So, in a way, this is a win-win. Kids will pick the healthier meal because they know that’s the one where they get the toys. I’ll still just blindly buy whatever package they have for my kid while I stuff my face with french fries.

Problem solved.

Unless you think there’s something a little off about the government stepping in as surrogate parent using psychological tactics to get kids to eat meals that are better for them because their caregivers aren’t doing it themselves.

Is there anything wrong with that?

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About paulgude

Paul Gude writes small books, makes stupid music, draws silly pictures, and does weird things on stage.
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