You Are What You Eat

mcdonalds-healthy-kids-mdTry telling kids that they will enjoy eating apples more than French fries, that milk will taste better than carbonated soda, and that carrot sticks will satisfy them more than ice cream at the end of a meal. Attempt to convince them that a sit-down dinner at home with the family will be “more fun” than taking a trip to the Play Place at McDonald’s.

How much fun would it be to spend those thirty minutes fantasizing about your “kingdom” at the top of the playground? Is it really that important to carry around that red box with the gold arches? How special can that toy inside the Happy Meal actually be?

Well, if you’re a typical kid between the ages of two and eleven, then this is all that you care about. This is what you live for on a Thursday night or Saturday afternoon.

happymealSure, there is not a problem with parents taking their kids to the renowned fast food chain from time to time, but the issue arises when their children relentlessly beg to dine at McDonald’s several times throughout the week because there is a correlation between consuming too much fast food and becoming overweight. In “Fast Food and Childhood Obesity in America,” Elle Paula from Livestrong cites,

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past three decades. In 2010, nearly 18 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 19 were considered obese.”

Childhood obesity is a growing issue in the United States because of the widespread practice of watching television. The Advertising Educational Foundation describes child-directed advertising as “‘making kids want what they don’t need’ and puts pressure on parents to respond to those needs.” As watching television has become a common part of a family’s routine, children are viewing several advertisements about fast food restaurants on a daily basis. Citing a statistic from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Advertising Educational Foundation provides a perspective about how much television a child watches:

“…the average child watches about four hours of television a day and sees more than 20,000 commercials each year, often for high-fat, high-sugar and high-salt snacks and foods.”

Rather than viewing food commercials that promote healthful foods and restaurants, the commercials primarily advertise foods that will not benefit the well-beings of the children.

The Public Health Initiative has a page on its website about obesity in the United States. It explains the prevalence of obesity in terms of income, race, and gender, and it portrays the negative effects of being obese. The Public Health Initiative quotes:

“One recent study from Harvard’s School of Public Health estimates obesity may account for as much as $190 billion annually or 21% of all U.S. medical expenses. Per capita, the cost of medical care for obese patients is estimated to be somewhere between 36% to 150% higher than for non-obese patients.”


Building on this discussion, the Public Health Initiative provides suggestions for preventing and dealing with obesity: eating healthily and staying physically active. That seems simple enough, right?
Wrong. Most likely any teenager or young adult understands the importance of a balanced diet and regular exercise in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but children are not informed enough to realize how poorly a fast food diet is for their health. Usually their knowledge does not improve as a result of their watching commercials from fast food chains.

Since the mid-2000s the McDonald’s corporation has worked to implement healthier food  options to their menu. In addition, they have vowed to better advertise to children in terms of what they are promoting to them and through what means this communication happens.

Anna Lappe, renowned speaker and author, promotes healthy eating and stresses the importance of making nutrient-rich foods available to all people. In her Ted Talk, “Marketing Food to Children,” Lappe suggests that parents are responsible for educating their children about healthy eating and the dangers of an unbalanced diet. To view her Ted Talk, click here. She makes an interesting point about the relationship between parents and the junk food industries that advertise unhealthy foods to children:

“So what we’re talking about is huge: we’re talking about changing social norms. But we’ve done it before, and we can do it again…

Food companies say that it’s up to parents to raise healthy kids. That’s what they say; and I agree. Absolutely! And that’s why I say to those corporations, ‘Then leave parenting to us.’ Right?! Don’t tell children what’s good to put into their bodies…

To the junk food industry, I say this: ‘My children — all of our children — are none of your business.’”

In “Media Talk podcast: Marketing and advertising to children – a necessary evil?” John Plunkett and guest speakers discuss the growing rate of childhood obesity as a result of social media advertisements. They debate whether it is the role of the parents to make their children social media competent, or whether the marketers need to change the messages that they convey in their advertisements.

Maybe convincing kids that an apple tastes as good as a McFlurry won’t be very successful, but teaching them healthy eating and exercising habits at a young age will be beneficiary to their future well-beings.



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