Once Again, Obesity Equation is Backwards

Now here's the problem with all this crap surrounding obesity in children. Everyone has it backwards. Marketers and the media are continually blamed for somehow forcing food down the throats of children. Here's a little factoid. As powerful as some might think marketers and the media are, they don't have arms attached to the bodies of children which mechanically force feed them the brands they manufacture and advertise. No. Kids put food in their mouths with their own arms.

Certainly, kids are greatly influenced by what they see on TV but, again, they have brains. They aren't robots with mouths. Learning to eat is something that needs to be learned. Asking a marketer, whose sole purpose is to sell shit (and it is shit), to tell kids to stop buying shit just isn't going to happen. Here's a radical concept in the form of a question. Who is the one person that is most influential in a child's life and who is charged with that child's education and upbringing? Any guesses? Not sure? We'll tell you. The child's parent. Yes, parents. Parents are the primary person in their child's lives and the ones who should be charged with educating them on proper eating habits. And yes, we know all kids don't have parents and that there are many broken homes out there but the primary responsibility for a child's eating habits is the parent.

Yes, marketers need to stop manufacturing sugar coated crap. Yes, some form of education for children and parents is needed. Yes, marketers should be questioned when they produce too much sugar coated crap. And yes, perhaps some legislation is needed. But, they shouldn't be asked to do the job of the child's parent. Parents need to kick their kids asses off the couch. Get them outside and away from too many mindless electronic games. Involve them in the preparation of meals. Educate them about what's good and what isn't when it comes to food and its ingredients.

Perhaps some heavy handedness on manufacturers, marketers and media is needed. Food made out of crap just shouldn't be made at all. Food that's deemed crap shouldn't be advertised. Asking the government to go after food makers may, in fact be needed. But, food makers are out to make a profit and they will do what ever it takes to make one. The only thing that will stop the manufacture of crappy food is people ceasing to eat it. It's simply supply and demand. Perhaps a better direction for the government to take is one of education. Work on the demand side. Not the supply side. Educate the public with more than a stupid food pyramid. Rather than spend money trying to get a for profit company to stop making the food that makes it its profit, come at it from the other side. Stop the demand for crappy food and crappy food will cease to be made.

Yes, this is an idealistic outlook and it's just one opinion. Both sides of the problem need attention but marketers don't force food down kid's throats and parent's have the best chance of properly educating children on proper eating habits.

Written by Steve Hall    Comments (31)     File: Opinion, Policy     Mar-22-07  
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I beg to differ, Steve.

TV is the Daddy and Mommy not the biological parents or legal guardians in the USA.

And on the other hand, Steve, I salute your bold statement 100%: [quote]"Food made out of crap just shouldn't be made at all. Food that's deemed crap shouldn't be advertised. [end quote]

I like the idea of The Brands doing the adjustments as we have seen recently with, as an example, the it's what goes inside tag seenand heard with a Mom and daughter enjoying a healthy fast food lunch.

Keep the good work!

peace out. adarthurity ;P

Posted by: adarthurity on March 22, 2007 01:42 PM

Watch Jesus Camp. It shows perfectly just how malleable kids minds are.

I saw a mcdonalds commercial just last night that was so unbelievably targeted towards kids it was disgusting.

Yeah marketers dont deserve all the blame but i certainly charge them with heavy handed tactics designed to get children wanting shit that is bad for them. Yeah parents have the last word but lots of parents will do anything to make their kids happy (or in many cases just shut up and stop bugging them about the goddamn chicken nuggets already!)

my 2¢


Posted by: online video marketing on March 22, 2007 01:45 PM

Kids see commercials and demand this food. When a friend's child asks for Coke, she gives them orange juice, and they're happy with that, because they don't know the difference.
Children know nothing, and absorb everything, so they are like little robots. If the marketing didn't work, advertisers wouldn't spend the money.
Why teach children to eat this shit? They should ban these ads during children's TV. If I was in charge I'd put restrictions on this shit food like they do on alcohol and tobacco.

Posted by: Ted Re on March 22, 2007 01:48 PM


Agree with most everythign you have said....

Another side to this issue is that obesity in kids (and adults) has its social-economic gravitation. A couple hundred years ago, the rich were fat and the poor were thin. Nowadays, it is the opporsite.

The healthiest of foods are generally more expensive. Now I am not talking about duck served in a rich cream sauce as healthy, but the duck part is...and it is expensive. Fast food is cheap...fried food is cheap...Ten percent juice drinks are cheap. The econimics behind food costs does play a role.

And beyond that, the ability to take the time to prepare good meals is rooted in economic divides. It is easy for a parent to provide good meals when there is a housekeeper or a nanny or one parent at home all day because the other makes enough for the family.

But when work gets in the way of being home or being able to take the time for a good meal; when not enough money is made for extra help in the house...that only adds to the issue.

OK...enough from me.


Posted by: Steve Johnson on March 22, 2007 01:51 PM

Steve, you've made a passionate and compelling argument... I mean, with all your "yes/buts" I can't see how anyone would disagree with your points.


Posted by: Paul on March 22, 2007 01:52 PM

I like to cover all the bases:-) And, admittedly, there are many sides to this story. It's not a one size fits all solution.

Posted by: Steve Hall on March 22, 2007 02:01 PM

Amen, my brother! I am not going to completely exonerate the people who are responsible for manipulative campaigns. Uh, oh, wait a minute! Isn't that what they get paid to do!?

Ultimately, it is up to parents to take responsibility for what they are allowing their children to do, see, eat. I am so fed up with people trying to turn their kids into their best friends, deferring to them every step of the way, and sloughing off their responsibility!

Parents, if your kid is obese, IT'S YOUR FAULT!!! If they are unhappy, confused, and constantly demanding and out of sorts, it's because they've been tasked with the responsiblity for making decisions they should never have to make.

Kids need and want firm, consistent guidance. Rules make them feel secure and loved.

This bullshit I hear all the time about "well, they wanted it, so we had to buy it for them" just doesn't float.

Parents need to grow up themselves, instead of asking their children to parent them!

So, no "yes/buts" here. Bring it on! My son grew up loving food and is a chef in New York...without a weight problem...because I actually cooked from scratch after getting home from the office (yes, 6 out of 7 nights), because McDonald's was a rare treat, because I instituted rules and required that they be followed. He's repeatedly thanked me since.

Not easy, but parenting is not a popularity contest.

Posted by: Lydia Sugarman on March 22, 2007 03:03 PM

someone should make a psa with what youve said. hahaha

Posted by: rocky on March 22, 2007 03:19 PM

And maybe...just maybe...if parents out there would stop buying the crap, maybe they will stop selling/making the crap in the stores. I don't know, something about supply and demand.

Posted by: AnnieW on March 22, 2007 05:25 PM

My wife called yesterday, "Guess, what Tommy knows what Chicken McNuggets are."

He's 2.5. We've never been inside a McDonald's with him.

Best I can figure his babysitter fed him frozen chicken nuggets and the older kids exclaimed about McNuggets. I swore quietly to myself and told my wife I can't really get too upset, since I'm in the business.

I think everyone needs to see Super Size Me, if only for the part where they talk about Tobacco targeting kids with toy ciggies to get them to pick their brand later. Spurlock says that makes sense and whenever he and his kids drive past a McDonald's he'll punch them in the face.

It is MY JOB to keep little Tommy from looking like Tommy Boy. If only everyone realized this we wouldn't be having this discussion. That kid in the picture should sue his parents, not McDonald's. He may have a plausible case for ignorance, but it's not the people who sold him the BigMac.

I'm gonna lose it here pretty soon so I'll quite before I break my keyboard.

Posted by: pat smith on March 22, 2007 06:58 PM

Steve, you're saying two contradictory things here. First, the old "we need more regulation" saw to force manufacturers to stop peddling -- as you say -- crap.

Yet, you foist the burden (rightly so, IMO) upon the parents to be active in their children's food choices. But your pro-regulation stance will only serve to help negligent parents evade responsibility even more. Let there be crap, let people decide for themselves, and keep the government out of it. I certainly don't want a Congressional cabal or worse, some unelected Health Care Politburo dictating what I can and cannot eat. They can rant and rave all they want about which choices are bad, but individuals have to be given the freedom to decide for themselves.

That right doesn't yet apply to children. I believe parents of obese children have effectively relinquished control to their kids. Whatever little Jonny or Juanito or Juwan or whomever wants, is what he gets. But children cannot make fully reasoned, well-informed decisions. Nor should they be expected to. All they know is that Whopper Juniors and Dr. Peppers taste really awesome -- even better when they can get that stuff at school, far away from the admonitions of mom and dad (which is a whole other topic).

Have you ever noticed that parents of obese children are often obese themselves? If the parents aren't making healthier food choices for themselves, it's no question why they don't for their children, either.

Let the marketers and manufacturers do what they do best. Make shit people want to consume. Let parents do what they SHOULD do best: raise children well.

Posted by: daveednyc on March 22, 2007 07:01 PM

Pro-regulation? I'm far from that stance. My firm belief is that the responsibility rests with the parents but like anything, there's never one easy or obvious answer. Most likely, it's a combination of several elements that will make the perfect solution to this problem. But mostly, parents should take responsibility.

Posted by: Steve Hall on March 22, 2007 07:25 PM

To fast food marketers: have some balls and stop being big pussies. Marketers choose their jobs. Nobody has mechanical arms attached to your feet forcing you to walk towards the office everyday and make sales-generating commercials aimed at making children eat unhealthy food. You choose to do it, for cash. Please take a moment to let that sink in. Its also known that the majority of parents are unsuccessful at stopping children from eating your unhealthy food. Again, please take a moment to let that sink in. Given your intention to make children eat unhealthy food and your knowledge that the majority of parents (I'm going to say the majority of parents are good parents) cannot counter your message, don't you feel more responsible than parents? You know its not good for the kids, you know its gonna work, and you still do it, for cash. The least you could do is have the balls to not ask for forgiveness or blame-share.

Sorry for the harsh language (I do love the blog though, no doubt).

Posted by: Philippe K. Chrun on March 22, 2007 09:57 PM

Steve, you're exactly right. Child Obesity is over when parents make it over.

MeMe Roth
National Action Against Obesity


Posted by: MeMe Roth on March 22, 2007 10:30 PM

You know what? everyone wants an easy, sound-bited answer to everything, but life isn't like that. There are several pieces to what drives a kid, and advertisers know it and use it. When parents come home from work, what happens?
They eat, and they sit around. If they are not sitting around, maybe they do the drudge work like cleaning and doing bills, but they don't generally do these things with their kids as a quality time activity. So what do kids do? They eat, and they sit around. they are more likely to use chat or a video game than the TV, but they do what their parents do. Most people are bigger now than they used to be, but it's also easier to go on autopilot with the food than it once was. Good food, for the most part needs to be prepared as far as meals go, and the poorer the parent is, the less time they have to do it, so the kid learns about chips, candy bars, mac and cheese and other options they can do themselves. And the produce that's even palatable these days is super expensive, so the poorer parents who are trying are buying veggies that they learned how to prepare 30-40 years ago, complete with frying or butter. These parents feel driven, in part by advertisers, to give kids some portion of the things they do want, but those poor parents have 30% less money to do it with, and those necessities are more expensive than ever. McDonalds is an easier thing to give them than the bling shoes, or really any shoes for that matter, so they give them the fun things they can give them. They don't have the fun and safe places to play that they used to, and they have been taught that if they are working their hearts out and struggling for a better life, that they are sub-standard, second class, etc. I'm just touching no the tip of the iceberg here. I am also consistently thin for the first time since college, and I can tell you that the fact that I have control over what food comes into my house is a key factor, and turning my tv on for only a few hours a week keeps me safe from the expectations of being not the prettiest, youngest, richest, or the one who has the most tasty food. I think, therefore I am happy. I plan, therefore, I can control my weight. But I acknowledge that it doesn't happen in a vacuum. In a cheap restaurant, the healthy food is the worst tasting stuff on the menu, and often the most expensive too. If the parents can't cook it, where are they going to eat it? How can they know it as anything other than funny tasting sludge?

Posted by: Devorah on March 22, 2007 11:20 PM

As a father of three I find it difficult to understand the hardline stance people take against fast food marketers, when those same people probably let their kids go to birthday parties and eat cake...go trick-or-treating for Halloween...take little Johnny out for an ice cream on a hot Summer afternoon. Give me a break...it's so easy to blame the big bad marketers instead of looking at your own actions.

By the way, I stopped at two fast food drive thrus tonight b/c my 5 year old wanted chicken nuggets and my 3 year old wanted tacos...but don't worry I made them drink horomone free skim milk with their dinners so I'm not a total asshole.

Posted by: A2john on March 22, 2007 11:25 PM

I am a single mother on a very limited budget. I am in the advertising field. Neither one of my children is now or ever has been overweight. One child is 17, the other 13. The problem is that the general public has come to expect some one else to be responsible for them. I cook about 5 nights a week. IF we have take out, it's about once a month and I make sure that they know that it's a "treat", even at their ages, I make sure they know that you can't make this type of eating a regular habit. I did the same thing when they were small. There were no guidelines out when my children were small, I read a couple of books on nutrition from the library (which is free to everyone)...imagine, educating oneself for the benefit of one's children, weirdo right? Frozen veggies are not nearly as expensive as fresh and are about as good, so don't try the money issue with me...I have little to none. It all comes down to this--do you care enough about yourself and your child to take the extra time to prepare a good meal? You know, you can get some great family time in by pulling everyone into the kitchen and making it a daily family activity. This way everyone gains something in several ways...good food, togetherness, the children (and maybe the parent who never cooks) learn food preparation, and you can usually learn something about the people you live with--rare in this day and age.
Just remember what my mom told me: When you point your finger at someone, there are three pointing right back at you.

Posted by: Michelle on March 23, 2007 07:44 AM

It's not that easy, and it can't all be on parents. Why?

Because our day cares and schools let outside foods and marketing programs in, and we parents learn about it only when "Bobby" brings home his certificate from Pizza Hut for reading, even though Bobby is only 4 and he can't read.

Because the marketing people link themselves and every kind of product including crappy food to the characters in our children's movies, books and toys to point where parents cannot escape it even if we keep the TV off. And I do. We can't even buy diapers without a friggin' recognizable character on them if we want a decent brand that won't leak.

Because the marketing to kids is designed to make them whine for the product, to create conflict between parents and kids over the product. And that sucks as a tactic. It really does.

Yes, parents have to stop it. But being a parent is hard enough as it is without this kind of battle as well.

I've been working through the Institute of Medicine's report on Food Marketing to Children and Youth. You can find several posts on the topic of childhood obesity on my site with regard to the issue and sourced from the IOM book. I suggest you read the IOM's book as well. I think every parent should read it.

Posted by: ExPat Chef on March 23, 2007 01:01 PM

I could not agree more with Steve's comments. Parents need to stop handing over their parenting duties to the television set and start raising their own children. We need to stop talking about "It takes a village" and start talking about "It takes a parent". Thanks Steve for putting the phrase "personal responsibilty" back into our vocabulary.


Posted by: David on March 23, 2007 02:09 PM

Children are not idiots. Some people are not giving children the credit they deserve. Guess that leads me to conclude you're just really, really old, not to mention absurdly out of touch with youth culture. And that's okay (if you're not in advertising... or have a soul). Moving on, yes children trust anyone, and yes they are impressionable. But ultimately I agree with Steve, who are the people who influence them the most? Why, think no farther than the people who raise them. Parents.
Please people, this is not as complicated as you would like to think.

Posted by: Jules on March 23, 2007 02:46 PM

Telling people they are responsible for themselves is not working. People are still getting too fat and obesity costs a lot by way of healthcare. The parents of obese children must not know much about nutrition themselves. I don't blame marketers, but govt. needs to take a stronger role to improve people's knowledge of nutrition.

Posted by: Ted Re on March 23, 2007 03:25 PM

No. Look, I just said no. How easy was that? How hard is it to say no to a 4,5,6, - 10 year old kid? Not very. Parents responsibility, parents fault. If your kid whines, send him to his room and he'll forget in two days. Parents should stop whining and do their job.

As for the article Steve linked to, what kind of idiot talks about what they would do with a magic wand?

Posted by: jay on March 23, 2007 04:09 PM

1. Steve, you're correct. Parents are responsible.

2. Please don't give this excuse: "The big, bad marketers told 4-year-old Billy how good Happy Meals are. Now he really wants one. What's a poor mother to do?"

BE RESPONSIBLE. Here's your chance to do some educating. Tell Billy that even though McDonald's says Happy Meals are really yummy and have cool toys, they'll actually make him fat in the long-run and he'll have tons of health problems.

If he keeps persisting, bust out some pictures of massive, gross, disgusting kids who have eaten too much McDonald's. I think he'll get the picture.

Posted by: Ryan Karpeles on March 23, 2007 05:44 PM

Right on, Steve!

We live in a society always looking for the easy way out (eg. making a quick stop at a fast food outlet rather than bothering to actually MAKE healthy food) and always looking for somebody else to blame - for everything!

If kids are so malleable, then we can use that for the positive just as well as blaming anybody else for exploiting it for the negative. TEACH your kids to love good food! Is that such a foreign concept??!

My niece and nephew have been raised on fresh, healthy, balanced diets. And here's a shocker - buy food that's in season, watch for specials, stock up on sale items (freeze what and when it makes sense) - and it's NOT more expensive! No time to cook? Bullshit. A salmon filet or a chicken breast cooks in ten to fifteen minutes. Whole wheat noodles or brown rice, twenty minutes. Toss a salad - two minutes. Come on! Or cook up a storm on Sunday afternoon and keep the stuff in the fridge for the week.

My nephew (seven years old) came home from a friend's house not long ago, distressed because they had tried to feed him "those orange square plastic things"... turns out he was referring to process cheese, which he just couldn't swallow.

You've got control from the day your child emerges from the womb. Use it!

Posted by: responsibility r us on March 24, 2007 02:31 PM

This topic keeps coming up, and it’s always interesting to see the repetitive arguments being made again and again. Allow me to present some more repetitive arguments.

Parents don’t prepare and sell food with trans fats (scientifically proven to be bad and even inspiring government-mandated bans) — junk food and fast food manufacturers do.

Parents don’t have multi-million-dollar advertising and promotional campaigns targeting kids with misleading messages — junk food and fast food manufacturers do.

Parents don’t make deals with schools and other public places to exclusively sell their unhealthy garbage to kids — junk food and fast food manufacturers do.

Parents don’t hire covert organizations run by political lobbyists to create propaganda to counter governmental and activist groups — junk food and fast food manufacturers do.

Parents don’t get to read the detailed studies showing the harmful effects of eating mass-produced stuff — junk food and fast food manufacturers do.

Parents in lower-income communities don’t have access to the healthy food options that others do — junk food and fast food manufacturers know this.

Don’t get me wrong. Parents can and should have a major say in the health of their kids. But no other parental generation in history has had to face the covert and blatant tactics of today’s junk food and fast food manufacturers. It’s not a coincidence that political leaders are stepping in to regulate junk food and fast food manufacturers. Mickey D’s and the rest do not have the public’s well being in mind.

Junk food and fast food manufacturers operate eerily like Big Tobacco (remember, Philip Morris and Kraft Foods are related). They should be regarded in the same way by parents.

Posted by: HighJive on March 24, 2007 10:27 PM


Are you saying that junk food and fast food manufacturers have more power in influencing the eating habits of children than parents?

If so, the parents who are being outdone should be ashamed. Parents always have the upper hand, no matter what the external manufacturers do. It's just plain silly to blame the people who make, market, and advocate this food for the problems we're facing.

THIS ALL COMES DOWN TO CHOICE. If you allow all this crap you mentioned to affect your choices, you lose and everyone gets fat and this becomes a horrible mess. The key is to decide in advance that you will take a stand against all these outside forces and do what's right for you and your family.

Bottom line: You always have a choice. In this case, the 'you' happens to be parents. Stop throwing out all these petty excuses and get some balls to stand up for what you know is right. Eating healthy is your decision, not the decision of fast food manufacturers.

Posted by: Ryan Karpeles on March 25, 2007 02:33 AM

No, I’m not saying parents are not the primary defenders. Just saying they’re confronting the greatest opposition ever. We’re too quick to put all the blame on the parents, ignoring the deliberate, negative influences being created by junk food and fast food manufacturers. Remember, legislators are seeing a need to mandate corporate actions, not parental actions. The “you have a choice” excuse is used by Big Tobacco too. It shouldn’t be used to justify corporate greed and the production of unhealthy food.

Posted by: HighJive on March 26, 2007 12:46 AM

I agree that parents shouldn't receive 100% of the blame. There are outside forces that make it difficult to stand firm, but they still must stand firm nevertheless.

For the record, choice plays a HUGE role in consuming fast food, and this "excuse" is much different than the one used by Big Tobacco. Unlike Big Tobacco, fast food is not addictive. Once you start smoking, it's very hard to quit and this is a major problem. Therefore, you DON'T have much choice. Eating crap on the other hand, is not addictive. It can become an unhealthy lifestyle habit, but it is not a biological addiction. Therefore, you DO have a choice.

I realize we are coming at this from slightly different angles, and that's great. I'm just advocating personal responsibility before blaming the external influencers.

Posted by: Ryan Karpeles on March 26, 2007 10:42 AM

Studies do show junk food can be addictive. The high levels of salt and sugar lead the brain and body to do weird things. Otherwise, the diet industry — including surgical procedures to lose weight — would be unnecessary. And were “super-sized” meals really necessary? Or did junk food and fast food manufacturers simply see profit — and to hell with public health? Personal responsibility is definitely critical here, just as it technically applies with Big Tobacco. But doesn’t the junk food and fast food industry need to show some responsibility too?

Posted by: HighJive on March 26, 2007 11:24 AM

1. The diet industry is necessary because unhealthy food tastes good. It satisfies our cravings. It's tempting and hard to resist, so we eat it. As a result, we need to diet. Also, everyone knows how to lose weight. Eat healthy and exercise. It's not a secret, it's a matter of will.

2. Junk/fast food manufacturers do have responsibilities as well. That's why legislation is starting to crack down on them (i.e. banning trans-fats). Unfortunately, their food is inherently unhealthy. That's why many fast food places are starting to offer healthier alternatives in an attempt to be more responsible.

3. Super-sized products, or any other outrageous offering such as BK's quadruple stacker burger, are meant to draw people in with a certain novelty value. Yes, they are horrible for you. No, they are not necessary. So either don't offer them or provide explicit nutrition info that people who buy them will be forced to see. Here is where manufacturers take responsibility.

4. No issue is ever one-sided. I believe parents are MORE responsible than manufacturers/marketers. You might believe the opposite. That's fine. I just hope that theory doesn't translate into other things...
-"I'm an alcoholic because I saw a Jim Beam ad." -"I'm a compulsive gambler because I saw a Harrah's Casino ad."
And so on.

Anyway, enough ranting from me. I think I know where you stand HJ and you probably know where I stand. On that note, I'm off to Mickey D's :)

Posted by: Ryan Karpeles on March 26, 2007 02:07 PM

We’re probably more in agreement than not. I do believe parents are the primary defender here. Just wanted to counter the folks who say it’s all the parents’ fault. It’s not. In many respects, change will come once parents start to view Ronald McDonald in the same way they viewed Joe Camel.

Posted by: HighJive on March 26, 2007 03:55 PM

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