Childhood obesity has become one of America’s biggest problems today. The number of obese children is increasing just as rapidly as their waist sizes, but who is to blame? Most people would jump to the conclusion that unhealthy fast food and its advertising is to blame. These same people argue that ad campaigns aim at young children, making them victims of the fast-food industry. However, all human beings have the power to exercise free will, even young children. They must draw examples from the people who are around them the most: their parents. Parents are ultimately the forces that influence the decisions their child makes and the way their child chooses to live his or her life.
There are many different viewpoints on this subject. Researchers on the side that blame the parents believe that in the early years of a child’s development, they are the most easily influenced. They are around their parents and family the most out of anyone else in their lives and their parents have the power to influence their decisions by saying no to unhealthy foods and offering healthier alternatives. They are the ones with the money and the transportation to drive and buy food for their children, it is up to them where they go and what kind of foods they spend their money on for their children to consume.
Researchers on the opposing viewpoint believe that fast-food companies are responsible for the childhood obesity problem in the United States today. They believe that these companies do not clearly state the dangers on consuming their foods too often, and that young children are targeted in their ad campaigns. These researchers as well as parents who are unwilling to take responsibility for their children compare fast-food company ads to cigarette ads in that they are advertising deadly products to a younger demographic and believe that sometimes they have no choice but to give their kids fast food.
Many have proposed theories as to where childhood obesity stems from. One theory is that it all starts in the household with the influence of a child’s family on their lifestyle choices. The very foundation of molding a child’s thought process begins at the delicate ages between infancy and their teen years when they begin growth and development, and then later learn by example. As children grow and develop, they experience influences from the people that they directly interact with, see, and take direction from on a regular basis; otherwise known as parents and other family members. In many American homes today, families are becoming much less conventional with the typical roles of the father as the breadwinner and the mother as the homemaker. Women have since become more independent and powerful, which means busier lives and less time to pay attention to the nutrition and other activities of their children. In Janice Shaw Crouse’s “Fighting Childhood Obesity the Family Way,” she tells readers that obesity organizations once referred to “the national retreat from family life” or the “rarity” of the mother’s role as a homemaker as on of the major causes for “frequency of fast-food eating.” Although both parents play a vital role in their children’s nutritional choices, the mother makes a vast impact, as USA Today reports that “the America on the Move Foundation found that 71 percent of children get information about how to be healthy from their mothers, while just 43 percent get that information from their fathers.”
Although there are several things that have an impact, the household is in fact the biggest contributor to the weight issue. As a matter of fact, Vicki Sloviter states in her article that “in a study that appeared in the April 2007 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, researchers at Ohio State University found that non-school environments such as homes contribute to an overweight problem in children as much as, if not more than school environments.” The school system is another thing that parents feel is to blame for their children’s weight issues, saying that school lunches are not healthy enough and that due to their busy schedules, their kids have no choice but to eat these “unhealthy” school lunches. A study by Paul T. von Hippel, PhD, and his colleagues has contradicted parents argument when then blame school for their kids weight problems. The study showed “a subset of 5,380 children from 310 schools … whose BMI’s were measured at the beginning, middle, and end of kindergarten.” The study showed many different variables including different rates of weight gain and average weights depending of race. Another thing that was found was that BMI increases accelerated during the summer months when children are not in school and are usually with their parents and families if not away at summer camp. This shows that the influence of parents are far more likely to make an impact on children’s health choices than schools are.
Cases of obese people suing fast-food companies claiming that they caused their unhealthy weight and series of health problems such as heart attacks have become more and more widespread throughout the nation. In the case of Caesar Barber, a fifty-six-year-old obese man, he expressed that he believed Wendy’s International and KFC Corp. have given inaccurate nutritional information about their products thus deceiving him into eating so much of it. An article in the Washington Times by Ellen Sorokin covers this case and she quotes Barber’s attorney, Samuel Hirsch, when he compares the fast-food industry to the tobacco industry, claiming that “fast food creates a de facto addiction or … a ‘craving’ in its consumers, particularly the poor children … There is direct deception when someone omits telling people food digested is detrimental to their health.” However, to combat this argument, the facts show that the four major chains of McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and KFC have provided nutritional information such as calorie and fat content in their foods since Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act in 1990. Barber could not have seen these facts and gotten the implication that eating so much of this food could be healthy for him, however he ate in anyway because it was cheap and fast even though his doctor warned him not to. Fast-food companies market their products in a way that will persuade consumers to buy their product, however this is exactly what a competing company should do in order to stay in business. Ultimately, these companies do not have a knife to our throats forcing us to eat their food, it is up to us as consumers to know the facts—which are clearly stated—and make the decision that is the best for us when choosing which foods to eat and how to stay healthy.
The government and other organizations are taking actions to combat childhood obesity. For instance, first lady Michelle Obama’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate and is now awaiting President Obama’s signature to become law. This bill encourages schools to serve nutritional meals that comply with the standards set by the National Academy of Sciences. Schools are given subsidies in order to make these nutritional meals possible. This is another contradiction to the argument that school lunches are responsible for childhood obesity. More and more organizations, hospitals, and help centers are offering activities that encourage more physical activity. For example, according to a New York Times article entitled “When Children Are Overweight, Changes for the Entire Family” by Lesley Alderman, hospitals around the world are creating and offering programs like “Fit Kids [at New York Hospital Queens], which counsels families on nutrition and offers exercise classes for children three days a week—all at no cost.” Programs like this can be found nationwide and it is up to parents to find the knowledge and take the initiative to realize that if their child has a weight issue and needs help, that they have a place to go at no cost to them, to seek out the help necessary for their child.
President Obama has also taken the matters of fast food into his own hands and is doing what he can to help the obesity situation. According to the New York Times, the president signed a health-care legislation in 2010 that will affect any big fast-food chain in America. This law will require labels on food and nutritional facts to be posted in every fast-food chain in the nation. It will also require all chains to disclose calorie counts on their food and give information on how many calories is healthy for a person to consume per day. This will mean that no one can use the excuse of not knowing how unhealthy they fast food that they consume really is. It will leave it up to the consumer to decide whether or not they still want to eat at that particular restaurant, and is intended to lead to more health-conscious eating and healthier options when eating fast food. Maybe now parents will think twice before pointing fingers, and take responsibility for their influence on their child’s choices.