On Tuesday, December 7, the city council of Superior, Wisconsin, will consider a proposal by council member Greg Mertzig. His proposal, very much like the ban California’s Santa Clara county and San Francisco passed recently, would decide what constitutes a healthy fast food children’s meal. Under the proposal, children’s meals served at restaurants like McDonalds and Burger King which do not conform to the guidelines can not be sold with free toys inside. If Mertzig’s proposal finds favor at its first reading, the Superior city council will vote to determine if it becomes an ordinance. What the city council of Superior, Wisconsin, decides with this proposal will impact the neighboring port city of Duluth, Minnesota, and possibly further up the shore in Two Harbors where I live.
Mertzig’s reason for the proposed ban centers around the idea that our nation’s children are becoming seriously obese. Reports in the Journal of the American Medical Association and on the Centers for Disease Control website confirm a trend toward obesity in children. The Centers for Disease Control, upon analyzing data from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, states 16.9 percent of all children between the ages of two and nineteen are obese.
To Mertzig, who is a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, this poses a threat to our national security. In an interview Mertzig had with Mike Simonson, reporting for Wisconsin Public Radio station KUWS, the city councilor states childhood obesity and weight issues resulting from it are preventing young adults from being accepted into the military.
Another argument Mertzig makes has to do with the use of free toys in children’s fast food meals as a marketing strategy. He (and I) remembers the days when candy cigarettes could be bought. Mertzig claims candy cigarettes led to children growing up to believe smoking was an acceptable habit. Whether or not those candy cigarettes with names like Round Up, Victory, or Target actually persuaded children to become adult smokers has been debated for decades. Research in 2007 by Dr. Jonathan Klein of the University of Rochester seemed to establish a link.
Mertzig believes the free toy attached to a children’s fast food meal desensitizes children to the unhealthy qualities of the fast food and promotes fast food as an acceptable diet. He compares the free toy to the candy cigarettes in their impact upon children.
Mertzig’s proposal calls for children’s fast food meals with toys to be under 600 calories, contain Recommended Daily Allowance portions of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, have less than ten percent of its calories come from fat, and contain no trans fats and less than 500 milligrams of sodium. If the proposal passes, Mertzig foresees having a committee and the city attorney work on the wording in an ordinance which may fine non-compliant restaurants.
Many people immediately think of McDonalds when the topic of kids meals with toys comes up. McDonalds is only one of several fast food chains with kids’ meals. Superior, Wisconsin, has two McDonalds, and one each of Arbys, Hardees, and Burger King, all of which sell kids’ meals with toys. Culvers also sells a children’s meal but theirs has Scoopie tokens attached. One token may be redeemed for a single scoop of frozen custard and ten tokens can be redeemed for items like a football, soccer ball, kickball, T-shirt, or flashlight.
A perusal of readers’ comments to the Duluth News Tribune article about Mertzig’s proposal seem to be overwhelmingly against an ordinance of this kind. Some say this is another overreaching attempt by a government entity to control people’s lives. Others point out that parents and their children are not forced into fast food restaurants. A few believe ordinances like this fail to teach children about personal responsibility and consequences for actions. Some say this usurps parental authority by implying parents do not have the power to say “no” to their children.
My opinion: our governing officials on the national, state, or local levels by considering proposals like this become food Nazis. I, for one, am growing weary of every new attempt by our government to protect me from me. This proposal reeks of political correctness and too much government control.
Northland’s NewsCenter. “Superior May Ban Fast Food Toys.” Northland’s NewsCenter: News, Weather, Sports | NBC, CBS, MyNetworkTV, and The CW for Duluth MN / Superior WI . N.p., 1 Dec. 2010. .
91.3 KUWS. “No Toys with Fatty Foods Possible in Superior.” Duluth Minnesota Newspaper – Wisconsin Newspaper Online – Business North. N.p., 2 Dec. 2010. .
“Obesity and Overweight for Professionals: Childhood | DNPAO | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., 30 Sept. 2010. .
Ogden, Cynthia L., Margaret D. Carroll, Lester R. Curtin, Molly M. Lamb, and Katherine M. Flegal. “Prevalence of High Body Mass Index in US Children and Adolescents, 2007-2008, January 20, 2010, Ogden et al. 303 (3): 242 Ã¢Â€Â” JAMA .” JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. N.p., 13 Jan. 2010. .
Elsevier. “Candy Cigarettes Desensitize Children To Harm Of Smoking According To New Study In Preventive Medicine.” Medical News Today: Health News. N.p., 21 June 2007. .