Toys, Cheeseburgers, and Santa Clara County

In politics, sometimes it is hard to tell which issues will trigger emotion from the public. When the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors opened their chambers to public discourse on whether or not to ban the distribution of toys with food at fast food restaurants, the emotional responses were clear, launching Santa Clara County into the media spotlight.

The story is hard to miss, as it has been picked up by the New York Times, the L.A. Times and Mercury News. At issue? The County Board of Supervisor’s 3-2 decision in favor of incentivizing fast food with toy giveaways. As you know from many of the articles posted on this blog, the VMC Foundation actively supports the fight against childhood obesity in Santa Clara County.

Our Executive Director Chris Wilder was at the Board of Supervisor’s meeting, and had this observation to share with the public that we felt compelled to share with you:

“Good morning President Yeager, Board of Supervisors, County Staff. When I first saw yesterday’s half page ad in the Mercury News, I initially agreed with a part of it: this may not be the most important topic for the County Government to be taking up. County Government is better suited to work with the budget, corrections and child welfare. When I thought about child welfare a little more, however, I said to myself ‘Wait a minute. This issue does have to do with child welfare.’

I remembered that when I was 17 and began my first semester at San Jose State University, it was commonplace for tobacco companies to set up in front of the student union and give away their products. By the time I graduated in 1989 that was no longer the case. Somewhere in there, there was a policy decision that prevented them from doing that. I think this is a good example of how policy change can impact attitude and behavior. If someone walked into this room right now smoking a cigarette, I think everyone would be appalled. That wasn’t necessarily the case 20 or 30 years ago. Policy decisions can, in fact, have a positive impact on behaviors.

As described today, childhood obesity is a huge issue in this county. The combination of fat, salt and sugar is an addictive combination. It may not be as addictive as tobacco, but, on the other hand, when I accepted that free sample in front of the student union and tried it I didn’t like it. I wonder how many children don’t like the cheeseburger, french fry and chocolate shake combination that they get while incentivized by that toy.

So, as I continued to think about this, I came to the conclusion that I strongly support this ordinance and I am very glad you decided to take it up today. Thank you very much.”