And then they came for the Happy Meal toys

Really. Just what will they think of next?

The latest target in the battle over fast food is something you shouldn’t even put in your mouth.

Convinced that Happy Meals and other food promotions aimed at children could make kids fat as well as happy, county officials in Silicon Valley are poised to outlaw the little toys that often come with high-calorie offerings.

The proposed ban is the latest in a growing string of efforts to change the types of foods aimed at youngsters and the way they are cooked and sold. Across the nation, cities, states and school boards have taken aim at excessive sugar, salt and certain types of fats.

Believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, the proposal would forbid the inclusion of a toy in any restaurant meal that has more than 485 calories, more than 600 mg of salt or high amounts of sugar or fat. In the case of McDonald’s, the limits would include all of the chain’s Happy Meals — even those that include apple sticks instead of French fries.

Supporters say the ban would encourage restaurants to offer more-nutritious foods to kids and would make unhealthful items less appealing. But opponents believe it amounts to government meddling in parental decisions. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will consider the proposal Tuesday.

Even though it’s largely symbolic — the proposed ban would apply only to the dozen fast-food restaurants within the jurisdiction of the board — the proposal has caused a bit of an uproar on the Internet, where comments on YouTube and other sites say it is another example of the “nanny state” gone wild.

The California Restaurant Assn. has taken out full-page newspaper advertisements against the proposed ordinance in local newspapers. One shows a little girl with her hands cuffed behind her back as she holds a stuffed animal.

Another opponent wrote in a YouTube posting, “I want to know when the pitchforks and torches and rope is going to come out…. We need to run these Frankenstein politician monsters the hell out of town!”

Ken Yeager, the Santa Clara County supervisor who is behind the effort, says the toys in kids’ meals are contributing to America’s obesity epidemic by encouraging children to eat unhealthful, fattening foods.

Yeager, of course, is a Democrat.

Some Santa Clara residents weighed in with their thoughts:

“We went through a phase when my daughter wanted the Happy Meal just to get the toy,” said Kristen Dimont, 37. The Sunnyvale blogger said that once her child tasted fast food, it took years to coax her back to the healthful variety. Dimont likes the idea of the ban — and thinks the supervisors should consider extending it to the play yards that also attract children to fast-food restaurants.

Rebecca Wolpinsky, 32, a mother of two, says she can’t stand the toys that are included with fast-food meals for children. “The toys are crap, honestly,” she said. “We end up recycling them or they end up getting left in the car.”

But Wolpinsky opposes banning the toys — or blaming them for childhood obesity.

“To say that Burger King or McDonald’s is the root cause or that giving toys with children’s meals is a root cause is not right,” she said.

McDonald’s declined to comment on the proposed ban. But the California Restaurant Assn. has played a major role in the opposition.

If County Supervisor Yeager “wants to take away the toys that are making kids fat, take away Xboxes, take away PlayStations, take away flat-screen TVs,” said Daniel Conway, spokesman for the industry group.

And cell phones – especially Blackberries, laptops, desktops … and maybe we should ban mothers from working – at least until their children turn 18 – so they can stay home and make sure their kids are active enough after school that they don’t become overweight. Can you think of anything else?

Seriously, though, I’m sure it’s a possbility that some kids want that Happy Meal because of the toy, but I suspect it’s a minority. Kids love burgers and fries almost as much – if not as much – as they like toys. But the toys in the McD’s Happy Meals really aren’t anything to write home about. That said, if they’re really so offensive to the likes of Yeager, instead of mandating they stop why not offer tax breaks to the local McDonald’s restaurants for opting out of including the toy in the meal, or for maybe noting on the menu that the toy is no longer included with the meal but if you’d like one for your child, please ask for one?

Oh wait. We’re talking about the left coast, where liberal politicos have rarely ever met a tax break they liked.

McQ sums it up nice and neat:

This is just the beginning of what you can expect to see from the food nazis (the FDA and salt?) now that government health care reform is law.

Next thing you know, left coast nanny-staters will be calling for a mandatory tofu Happy Meal to replace the burger and fries.

Maybe one day they’ll actually end up standing against something that actually does have the potential influence young folks to engage in bad behavior, like Planned Parenthood groups using cartoons to both sell condoms as “fun,” and to “blow up” abortion opponents with a “condom gun.”

Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?

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