Fast food, soda and junk food

If you’ve seen “Supersize Me” you know that along with fast food, junk food and unhealthy cafeteria food in schools is a big problem in the United States. Hell, in middle school I remember calling Funyons and a candy bar “lunch.” And in high school I recall eating french fries and pepperoni pizza on MANY occasions. Oh yeah! That was some fine dining! ;)

I recently read an article in the current issue of Mothering magazine about soda companies and their marketing ploys in schools. It seems that the companies approach the school districts offering to pay for this, that or the other thing in exchange for the school signing a contract that allows them to put their soda vending machines in the schools. The fine print (which usually is not read by the district) forbids them from putting in other vending machines with healthy alternatives (like milk or water). And the contracts can be binding for many years, like up to 8-10.

Soda companies see the formative years as being the best time to develop product loyalty in kids/teens. I remember arguing with my own friends over which was better – Coke or Pepsi.

Then there’s McDonald’s (and many other fast food chains) that markets itself to kids by way of a clown for a mascot as well as play areas in many of the restaurants. Buy a “Happy Meal” and get a free toy!

Taken from “The Fast Food Trap: How Commercialism Creates Overweight Children”
By Gary Ruskin
Mothering Magazine Issue 121: November/December 2003

“McDonald’s first national ad campaign, in 1967, was an unexpectedly huge success: 10 million kids wrote in to pick floats for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. From then it was off to the races. McDonald’s advertising director put this battle cry on his wall: “Early to bed / Early to rise / Advertise / Advertise / Advertise.”18 Since then, McDonald’s has been masterful in its use of beloved characters to sell its high-calorie fast food. Among others, McDonald’s has employed Winnie-the-Pooh, 101 Dalmatians, Nemo, Furby, Tarzan, and Beanie Babies to sell its Happy Meals.”

“Fast-food marketers such as McDonald’s and Burger King have reshaped the diets of American parents and kids, and the rise in fast-food consumption has paralleled the boom in the incidence of childhood obesity. Between 1977 and 1995, the percentage of meals and snacks eaten at fast-food restaurants doubled. This has been especially devastating to the health of children. Because fast food is typically so high in sugar, fat, and calories, these meals can quickly add pounds to a kid’s waistline. In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers found that, compared to adolescents who did not eat at fast-food restaurants, boys and girls who ate fast food three times in the previous week had astoundingly higher calorie intakes: 40 and 37 percent, respectively.”

The problem with all of this is that obesity in children in the U.S. is at epidemic levels. I think this is partially due to our recent sedentary lifestyles – i.e. watching TV, playing video or computer games – and also due to junk food and fast food.

“Of these occupational illnesses of childhood, obesity is probably the greatest. Certainly it is the most apparent, as a visit to just about any elementary school or mall will confirm. Depending on how you measure it, between 15 and 24 percent of American children are overweight-a threefold increase since the early 1970s.”

That’s a frightening statistic. I know we aren’t the best about getting off our butts and setting a good example. Both Jody and I enjoy our computer time and like to watch the occasional TV show. But I think things like that can be done in moderation (which is the real key and something we need to work on).

It’s frustrating to me that the soda and fast food companies see children as their target audience with no regard for their health or well-being. This is commercialism run amok at the children’s expense.

It’s encouraging to know, however, that thanks to concerned parents, some states and cities are passing legislation that prohibit soda or junk food from their schools (see below).

Recent Victories
Dates in parentheses indicate when the legislation was approved or signed into law.

-California: banned sale of junk food and soda in elementary schools and sale of soda in middle schools as of 1/1/04 (10/01).
-Texas: banned sale of soda, candy, and foods of minimal nutritional value from hallways, lunchrooms, common areas during mealtimes (4/02).
-Los Angeles: banned sale of soda in all L.A. public schools as of 1/1/04 (8/02).
-Nashville: banned Channel One from Nashville public schools (9/02).
-New York City: banned candy, soda, and other unhealthy snacks from vending machines, and improved school meals (6/03).
-Oakland, California: banned sale of soda, candy from Oakland public schools (12/01).
-Philadelphia: announced plan to ban sale of soda from all Philadelphia public-school vending machines not in faculty lounges (7/03).
-San Francisco: banned sale of soda, candy in cafeterias as of 2003-2004 school year (1/03).
-Seattle: banned Channel One from Seattle public schools as of 2004-2005 school year (11/01).

Obviously the best thing parents can do is adopt healthy lifestyles and eating habits at home and hope that their children will learn by example. But as far as getting the soda and junk food out of their schools, Ruskin advises, “The single best thing you can do is to tell your school-board members and state legislators to implement the Childhood Obesity Prevention Agenda, which has been endorsed by dozens of top obesity researchers and prominent public health groups.”

It’s nice to see that parents’ efforts can make a difference. I hope that more cities and states will continue to pass laws banning the crap from the schools.

As for me – I know Ava’s school-age days are still a ways off, but it can’t hurt for me to start checking around now to see what kind of policies are in place in our local school district. These things tend to take time, or so I’m gathering from the date the above legislations were passed and when they will go into effect, so the sooner the better.