Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The role of parenting and healthy eating

Listening to NPR this morning, I heard a story about a group that plans to sue McDonald's over what they perceive to be "illegal" marketing to children. Here's a link to the story, if you'd like to check it out for yourself:

As a new parent, but also a Libertarian - I'm extremely conflicted about this issue. On one hand, my political beliefs tell me that it isn't the role of government to dictate how a company should advertise their products, and it is the responsibility of parents to guide their children to make healthy eating choices. On the other hand, I can understand where fast food chains would want to target children (who don't understand the consequences of eating the foods that chains like McDonalds are selling) using a plastic toy as an incentive, and develop bad habits which will lead to a lifetime of unhealthy eating.

Regulation in advertising is not a new thing. For example, the FDA regulates pharmaceutical advertising; tobacco advertising in print and television is no longer allowed, and there are numerous restrictions on the advertising of alcohol. It would seem that marketing of fast food (which could legitimately be called a public health hazard) is not without precedent. On the other hand, I feel that excessive regulation of advertising puts us on a slippery slope. Where do you draw the line between the government's desire to "protect" its citizens vs. restricting our ability to make our own choices?

In an ideal world, we the people would vote with our dollars - and if what McDonalds is doing is immoral or unethical, we would not patronize them. I suspect that the folks directly involved in this effort would not take their children to McDonalds in the first place. However, experience (and the statistics on obesity in this country) would suggest that I'm wrong - and that the American people truly do require "protection" against the fast food industry.

Where is the middle ground here?