If there’s no toy, is it still happy?

It’s official.  If you live in San Francisco and you want your child to have a McDonald’s Happy Meal with a toy,  you can’t have one.

San Francisco is the first major American city to effectively outlaw the toy-with-meal product that has so many of us running to fast food chains on those days when we’re too busy to stop and cook a meal or as a reward for a successful eye doctor appointment. 

According to a story published on November 10, 2010 by the Associated Press:  “The legislation is a big victory for activists and public health advocates who have charged food marketers with being complicit in the country’s growing childhood obesity rates. They hope other cities and counties nationwide will follow their lead.”

The rate of childhood obesity was the spark that resulted in this victory against the corporate marketing juggernaut.  As parents seek more control over what their children see and experience when interacting with the ever-present media, it’s important to realize that it’s a difficult problem to solve one family at a time.

First we need to understand how the marketing floodgates opened.

According to Diane Levin, Ph.D marketing to children was prohibited until the FCC deregulated children’s television in 1984. In a 2008 article entitled “ Buy, Buy Childhood:  Helping Children Resist the Lure of Today’s Media and Commercial Culture”  Levin states:  “Deregulation led to enormously successful programs like “Masters of the Universe,”  “GI Joe,”  “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,”  and the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” which were created to sell products. Indeed, these “program-length commercials” transformed the very nature of childhood.”

Only now, Levin notes are we recognizing the problems of deregulation. 

“It is time for everyone who cares about children to work together to reduce the hazards that media and marketing are creating for them,” Levin writes.

There are many organizations who are leading the effort to curb marketing aimed at children.  These organizations range from helpful, how-to articles on parent-friendly sites  to websites designed for advocacy.  Here is a brief list:

Parents for Ethical Marketing  –     http://www.parentsforethicalmarketing.org

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood  –   http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org

Commercial Alert – http://www.commercialalert.org


Levin, Diane (2008) Buy, buy childhood:  Helping children resist the lure of today’s media and commercial culture, Early Childhood, Spring/Summer 2008. Retrieved from http://www.winnetkaalliance.org/pdf/SpringSummer08.pdf

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