Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Putting away fat kids' toys

The supervisor of California’s Santa Clara County has hatched a new plan for combating childhood obesity. In a state renowned for incubating outlandish notions, this one could be a Hall of Famer.

The reasoning goes like this: Kids get fat if their parents buy them too much fast food. The little dears bug Mom and Dad to pop for burgers and fries because they want the toys that come with the meals as freebies. Ergo, outlaw the premiums and you break the cycle. Before you can yell, “Cut recess,” the tykes will be reaching for carrot sticks and broccoli florets as they stare slack-jawed at some sort of screen for five hours.

I'll wait a minute here as the libertarians and activists move through their ritual war dance, which can be summed up as, “No, YOU are! And that’s not how to solve this problem.” Ten points to whatever side used the “R” word first, as in, “It’s the parents’ responsibility,” or “The big fast-food chains have to take responsibility for what they’re serving.”

The rest of you can join me here in the middle, dodging the spittle flying from both sides. Maybe we can slip in the observation that a magic-bullet solution just isn’t going to work with a problem that’s been decades in the making.

Sadly, the strategy is simple. Have kids burn more calories than they ingest and the problem’s solved. All you have to do is reverse a four-decade trend that’s left us with firmly entrenched behaviors.

Forcing that about-face will be tough. But we’d better get to it, instead of looking for push-button solutions to an intractable problem.

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