Note to Activists: Food Makes Kids Fat, Not Advertising

Last Updated Mar 31, 2010 5:07 PM EDT

It's been a busy time for activists seeking solutions to our nation's child obesity problem. More than one group has recently announced they have found the culprit, and it's not food -- it's advertising.

First, a San Diego-area lawmaker proposed banning toys in fast-food meals in hopes of making them less popular among kids. Santa Clara County lawmakers are weighing whether a proposed law would ban all toys from kids' meals, or perhaps allow them only in the supposedly healthy ones.

Next, the same group that campaigned to rid the world of Joe Camel are now insisting that McDonald's (MCD) retire its icon Ronald McDonald. Corporate Accountability charges that the mascot adorning cancer-support facilities across the country is too alluring to tots, encouraging them to nag their parents into taking them to the fast-food leader's restaurants. (No word on whether the Hamburglar poses a similar threat to child health.)

At the risk of stating the obvious, advertising is calorie-free. Fattening food makes children gain weight.

Also, as anyone who has taken a child to toy-providing restaurant can tell you, kids sometimes ignore the food entirely in favor of playing with the toy, so the toys may actually be a calorie-saver. Would be interesting to see some research in this area.

Activists' energy would be better spent pressuring fast-food chains to develop a broader range of healthy-meal alternatives that would appeal to kids. It's unlikely time-pressed and dollar-short parents are going to suddenly stop frequenting fast-food restaurants, despite the risks posed by childhood obesity. Switching a restaurant chain to a new mascot probably won't do the trick, either (and you know there'd be one). But if the eateries offered more low-calorie options, fewer calories might go in kids' mouths, and more kids might slim down.

Photo via Flickr user Mr. ATM

  • Carol Tice

    Carol Tice is a longtime business reporter whose work has appeared in Entrepreneur, The Seattle Times, and Nation's Restaurant News, among others. Online sites she's written for include and Yahoo!Hotjobs. She blogs about the business of writing at Make a Living Writing.