Unhappy Meals

The L.A. Times reports

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s Corp., claiming that the company’s meals with toys unfairly entice children into eating food that can do them harm…

The lead plaintiff in the suit is Monica Parham, a mother of two from Sacramento who said the company “uses toys as bait to induce her kids to clamor to go to McDonald’s,” the organization said.

It’s a little hard to know what to say about this… On one hand, frankly, I think it’s absurd, and it makes me a little mad just to read it. On the other hand, the fact that someone feels compelled to go to court over something like this makes me think their mind is unlikely to be swayed just by me saying so. I have to guess that they look at the world with a very different set of assumptions from me – which is perhaps the more interesting point.

I can sympathize with the challenges parents have raising their kids, but like most people I suspect (or hope?), I believe that the responsibility for managing kids’ behavior does lie ultimately with parents, even in situations when that’s difficult.

Evidently the complaint here is not that McDonald’s sells unhealthy food, but rather the fact that they make the product even more appealing by adding the toy. So presumably the Center for Science in the Public Interest is not saying it’s wrong for kids to ever eat foods with high sugar and fat content. But if it’s not inherently wrong to sell something, at what point does it become wrong to make the product more attractive to your customers?

I can understand that kids are potentially more vulnerable to clever marketing than adults, but I’m not convinced that prohibiting that would be doing them a favor, even if it would make life easier for their parents and even if doing so could be justified on legal grounds (though I’m sure it can’t). We all have to learn to make good choices when we would prefer not to. I’m not sure that that gets any easier as we get older, but nonetheless as adults we do have to take responsibility for our own decisions. If kids never encounter situations in which their parents have the opportunity to train them to do that, will they learn to make good choices when they get older? I’m not so sure.

But then again, I’m not a parent. It would be interesting to hear what people with kids think about this. Incidentally, I was pleased to find that some other people also think this is absurd, and have said so far more eloquently than me – Walter Olson at the NY Daily News and Megan McArdle at The Atlantic. They are both worth reading.

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