On The Road to Ever-More Government Control

A California county recently banned fast-food restaurants from including toys in their kids’ meals. The goal of this new ban is to reduce rampant obesity in today’s youth by breaking “the link between unhealthy food and prizes.” On the face of it, the effects of this ban seem trivial: so what if there are no longer any toys with meals?

But however petty this law may seem at first glance, its implications are anything but. If we accept the underlying premise of this ban, that it is proper for the government to outlaw practices with which it disagrees in the name of what’s “best” for us, then the debate is no longer about whether the government should control our lives; it is merely a question of how much.

Our lives are comprised of a constant series of decisions, ranging from the foods we should eat to the careers we pursue to the relationships we choose to have, any number of which it might be asked: is that a healthy choice? Is that really best for you? If we accept that it is the government and not we as individuals who decide the answers to these questions, there is no logical end to how intrusive the government may become in order to purportedly protect us or our children from obesity or any other real or alleged harm.

If kids’ meals should not include toys, then maybe McDonald’s should be banned from having playgrounds because these might attract children to eat there. Or maybe the company’s mascot, Ronald McDonald, should be banned because he appeals to children. Or perhaps fast food restaurants should not be allowed to paint their exteriors with bright, cheerful colors but instead must look drab (like cigarette cartons and ads are forced to do). And maybe banning fast food restaurants in general would be a good idea since they’re not healthy for anyone, as has already been done in other California towns.

The logical consequence of banning toys in kids’ meals is the government’s ever-increasing control over what foods a restaurant can sell, how it can sell them, and what we as consumers can eat. This means that someone who usually eats healthy foods but likes to occasionally bite into a juicy cheeseburger may no longer have the choice to decide whether he can do so. This decision will be left up to the government. Or a mom who on occasion purchases kids’ meals for her child for the convenience of an easy and quick bite may no longer have the luxury of deciding to pursue that option. Uncle Sam will decide what any parent feeds his child.

There are those who will scoff at this “slippery slope” argument. But if these predictions seem too speculative, remember that the laws of today were the parodies of yesterday. Back in 1994, many people thought it was absurd for tobacco companies to argue that anti-smoking legislation opened the door to regulation of food. Sixteen years later, here we are. Where will we be in 2026? Once a legal principle is established and increasingly entrenched—as this law will further entrench the principle that government should control our food choices—history shows us that the implications of such a principle will be carried out over time.

This nation was rightly founded on the premise that we have the right to exercise our own choices, even when our decisions might be mistaken or when others disagree. If companies want to offer toys with their kids’ meals, even if these meals may be considered unhealthy, they should be free to do so. Likewise, parents should be free to decide whether they want to purchase such meals for their children. And of course, those that oppose such practices should be free to advocate their opposition.

What the fast-food toy ban does instead is sidestep all of these freedoms and paternalistically impose a course of action on law-abiding Americans. Our government should not be making these choices for us under the ostensible goal of doing what is in our “best” interest. We should be able to decide that for ourselves.

Photo by Flickr user noodlepie.

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