The Happy Meal Ban Flops
The law reveals the motivations behind the nanny state.


In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity in February, NYU School of Medicine professor Brian Elbel and his colleagues studied receipts from inner-city kids who ate at restaurants with the menu boards both before and after they were posted as required by law in New York City, as well as from children in Newark, N.J., where calories were not posted as prominently. The study, funded by Yale University, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health, found that calorie counts did not affect kids’ choices. But it was too late to matter.

Instead of waiting for data on the New York experiment, activists rushed the requirement into law as a little-noticed provision of Obamacare. How did proponents of the law respond to the study? Instead of admitting the plan didn’t work, they used it as a rallying cry for even more intrusive interventions. Expect the same strategy in the fight against the Happy Meal. In fact, Ms. Simon is already responding to the McDonald’s move by saying, “The fix is to stop all marketing to kids, not give industry more clever ways to do so.”

Happy Meal bans, soda taxes, and other favorites of the nanny-staters are bound to continue making headway — not against obesity, but against individual choice, personal responsibility, and, yes, corporate profits. Only when Americans realize that the food police are motivated not to help us become healthier, but to impose their ideology on us, will we have any chance of a return to rational food policy. Only then might we be able to explore health-improving ideas based on science, choice, and personal responsibility. Inevitably, the solutions will come from the private sector, not despite it.

— Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and heads its Risk Analysis Division. Follow him on Twitter at @JeffAStier.