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Childhood Obesity: The Responsibility of Parents Although obesity is a very sensitive topic, it is a pressing issue in modern culture, and it is something we cannot ignore. Who is responsible for the health of America? Is it parents, teachers, or is it the responsibility of fast food marketers to properly inform their audience? Often the blame is shifted to other people and to other influences like billboards and commercials, but rarely is the individual held responsible for their health.
Lawsuits and legal action try to shift the blame onto fast food restaurants and school cafeterias. Most people feel better if they can blame their poor health on anything other than themselves. Evidence shows that one’s childhood years have a huge impact on the health of the rest of their life, and usually the parents of overweight children are the most eager to shift blame onto fast food, school lunches, or marketing aimed at their children.
The reality is that parents are responsible for educating their children on a healthy lifestyle and for showing them how to make the right choices. In his article Fast Food: Oppression Through Poor Nutrition, Andrea Freeman states that government support for fast food is to blame for America’s obesity problem. He also claims that we must recognize “food oppression as a form of institutionalized inequality that must be acknowledged, addressed, and eradicated” (Freeman 2224).
Another source on this topic, The Role of Schools in Obesity Prevention by Mary Story, Karen M.
Kaphingst, and Simone French, states that schools aren’t doing enough to educate their students about healthy eating and activity, and that schools could be making their lunches healthier without effecting their budget. Lastly, the article Children as Consumers: Advertising and Marketing, by Sandra L. Calvert, claims that children, particularly those under 8 years of age, are especially vulnerable to deceptive marketing because they lack the cognitive skills to understand the persuasive intent of advertisements (Calvert 205).
It is pretty easy to see that individuals are, for the most part, responsible for their own choices, but in this essay I will look at the controversy over who is responsible for childhood obesity. I will discuss the following topics: the influence fast food has over poorer inner city people, unhealthy marketing aimed specifically at children, and finally competitive foods fighting for the attention of students in public school lunchrooms. I will show that the parents of these children must step up nd lead their households in a healthy manner lest the health of our culture continue to fall. I will start by addressing the influence fast food has over poorer, inner city people. Freeman explains that often people who live nowhere near a supermarket and cannot afford the more expensive, imported fresh fruits do not have a choice but to eat the cheaper, highly- processed food available at fast food restaurants (Freeman 2222). It is common knowledge that this food is highly unhealthy, but it appears that these people do not have another option.
All of Freeman’s claims seem to be valid, but they assume that parents are not going to go out of their way at all for their children. If only the parents would go out of their way and drive the extra ten minutes to buy healthier food at the grocery store, or take the time to pack healthy lunches for their kids, we could begin to rewrite the statistics. If the parents of America would step up and be who they are supposed to be, we would see improvement not only in the health of our youth, but also in the health of the country as a whole.
Parents would also set the example for their children of a healthy lifestyle, something which their children would learn and apply at school and throughout the rest of their lives. Instead though, parents go through life giving their children whatever they want while quietly hoping their children will make the right choices. Later, when these kids make unhealthy choices, the parents quickly blame the world. Even in poor families the children have a huge influence over what the parents buy.
Because of the marketing directed specifically at the children, Calvert explains, a great number of families may eat fast food more often (Calvert 206). Fast food even seems to be creeping into the public school system. Story et al. states, “In the 2003 California High School Fast Food Survey, roughly one-fourth of 173 districts reported selling brand-name products from Taco Bell, Subway, Domino’s, and Pizza Hut in high schools” (Story 115-116). These unhealthy alternatives are appealing to students and are often chosen over the school lunch, or even over a homemade lunch.
If students make unhealthy choices often during school lunches their health will suffer, and without instruction from the parents, kids won’t know they are doing themselves any harm. All of these authors seem to agree that living near fast food, but away from fresh produce, is a dangerous situation for parents who are not active in their children’s lives. If the parents would go just a little bit out of their way for the sake of their children, they would improve the health of the entire household and we could start to turn the whole country around.
Although children have such an impact on their parents’ money I believe there are steps that the parents can, and must, take to improve their children’s health. Additionally, by cooking at home instead of eating out, over time parents will end up saving money. A child having such power over their parents’ spending leads us into the topic of marketing aimed specifically at the younger generation, and how if parents don’t educate their children, marketers will gladly takes over. Calvert devotes a large portion of his article to this idea of marketing.
He insists that, “Many products marketed to children are not healthful and promote obesity” (Calvert 206). He continues to explain that marketing tactics are more deceptive than ever, and that younger children are especially vulnerable because they often don’t understand the persuasive design of advertisements (206). Freeman sees the same strategies at work and writes, “The industry directs its greatest efforts towards children. Not only are children more susceptible to manipulation, but they also represent a long-term investment. ” (Freeman 2233).
Marketing towards children is highly profitable because it is aimed at the uninformed youth of our nation and will likely influence the spending of generations to come. This circle will continue indefinitely unless someone intervenes. Some people believe it is the school’s job to educate children in a healthy lifestyle. Story et al. shows how health education in schools can help students look past advertisers’ marketing, eat healthier, and stay active. In theory health education in schools would solve our childhood obesity problems overnight, but in practice it doesn’t work so well.
By time kids are in first grade, as Calvert explained, they have been exposed to countless marketing tactics aimed directly at them and if the parents aren’t standing up for their children and leading them down the right path, but instead are taking their children to eat McDonalds four times a week, the children could be on the road to obesity before they even step onto a school bus. Parents have the primary, and most influential, effect on their children’s health, and if hey don’t teach them right, then when lunch time at school rolls around instead of buying cafeteria food they will buy into the less healthy but more attractive options that are readily available. That leads us into the topic of competitive food in public school lunchrooms fighting for the attention of students. Competitive food is defined by Calvert as food from vending machines, fast food outlets, and school fundraisers that competes with cafeteria food (Calvert 220). Story et al. writes about how fast food restaurants contract with schools to sell their products in return for free food, cooking utilities, etc.
They explain that competitive foods sold in the cafeteria are taking the place of fruits, vegetables and other healthful food options and contributing to excessive intake of fat and saturated fat (Story 116). Calvert discusses the sale of competitive foods in public schools as another means of advertisement which encourages the consumption of these unhealthy options even outside of the lunchroom (Calvert 220). Because parents aren’t teaching their kids what they need to eat, marketers’ advertisements are taking over the responsibility and bringing down the health of the whole country as a result.
As for the fast food in schools, Freeman points out how these highly processed foods contain a lot of chemical additives and when combined with starchy vegetables and sugary drinks, these foods have a high glycemic load, a factor which contributes to obesity and diabetes (Freeman 2234). This competitive food is very tempting for students, and the only way they are going to know to choose the healthier option is if they were taught properly from the start by their parents.
In the end we see that there is a lot of pressure put on children today in their schools and in their every day lives, and if the children aren’t properly educated in a healthy lifestyle they will follow the crowd and buy into the unhealthy lifestyle that has become the cultural norm. Although marketing schemes are more deceptive than ever and very often aimed directly at children, it is the role of the parent in a child’s life to protect them from the deceptive schemes of marketers.
Additionally the pressure on children in schools is at an all-time high with plenty of unhealthy food choices, with no one around to tell them what to eat and what to stay away from. Parents must educated their kids from the start, before they ever step foot into a classroom. Parents must be willing to go out of the way for their children and be willing to spend a little more time in the grocery stores and in the kitchen to prepare healthy meals and teach the kids how to do the same. Even though fast food is often cheap, time will prove that home cooked meals can be cheaper and are much healthier. If parents don’t step up and teach and lead their children by example, our youth and future generations will pay the price. ?
Works Cited Calvert, Sandra L. “Children as Consumers: Advertising and Marketing” The Future of Children18. 1 (2008): 205-234. Web. Freeman, Andrea. “Fast Food: Oppression Through Poor Nutrition. ” California Law Review 95. 6 (2007): 2221-2259. Print. Story, Mary, Karen M. Kaphingst, and Simone French. “The Role of Schools in Obesity Prevention. ” The Future of Children 16. 1 (2006): 109-142. Print.