Navigating Childhood Obesity in a Fast Food-Filled Society
Fostering Unhealthy Habits: Nurturing a Healthy Future
A few months ago, my parents adopted my niece, the one and only granddaughter and niece our family of 7 has ever had. The story of my little niece’s life has so far been a little rough, with the mother out of the picture and my brother in and out of her life, we as a family have joined forces to create an environment where she can grow up healthy and happy. Before she was able to move in with us, she was under the care of her foster family. My parents would visit my niece on the weekends, and the designated place to meet bylaw was in a public place. It first moved from the park to meeting inside a nearby Mcdonalds, Jack in the Box, Carls Jr, you name it. Through weekend interactions, my parents, unmindful, would purchase breakfast meals and drinks for the foster parents and Mia, my niece.
One evening my mom came home and said to my sisters and me, ‘I think Mia might be gaining weight. I don’t know what her foster parents are feeding her, but she looks chubbier.’ Throughout the weekend, we would get picture messages from the foster family showing Mia with pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread), trips to Chuck-e-cheese with cotton candy in hand, and sweet drinks. The feeling of wanting to give her everything was creating unhealthy habits for my little niece. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to spoil her ( I know I do), but I think the unconscious decisions to feed our children what’s available and what we think would make them happy, rather than making a conscious decision to go out of our way to ensure they receive a proper and nutritious filling meal is essential.
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From Health Crisis to Socioeconomic Disparities
Childhood obesity defines and consists of all the diseases that relate to being overweight such as hypertension, diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver, heart disease, high cholesterol, and more. The national center for health statistics states ‘Hispanics (25.8%) and non-Hispanic blacks (22.0%) had higher obesity prevalence than non-Hispanic whites (14.1%). 18% of children in the United States are affected by childhood obesity.
Seventy-eight million adults and 12 million children are obese.” Researchers have concluded that by 2020 fatty liver disease will be the main leader in liver transplants. A team of researchers from the University of Arizona found that fast food chains in predominantly black neighborhoods were more than 60 percent more likely to advertise to children than in predominantly white neighborhoods. Fast food accounts for roughly 13 percent of the total calories eaten by children and teenagers aged 2 to 18 in the United States. Seventy-nine million people are pre-diabetic.
Parental control refers to the parents’ decisions on what their children can consume and what habits can be developed to ensure that a child grows up healthy. Personally, I grew up in South LA. I still do, but I remember when I was growing up in my low-income family, there were times when buying junk food such as burgers or tacos was sometimes more convenient for parents who were working full times jobs and not earning enough to travel to whole food grocery markets.
I grew up going to a school where my classmates were having Ramen cup noodles for breakfast that a teacher sold from inside her class during a break, eating a bag of hot Cheetos from the corner store as their lunch. Not to mention the quick and cheap McDonald’s, Jack in the Box, and burger king down the block from my middle school, or the ice cream stuck and other vendors that would wait outside our school by the time the bell rang. At every turn, we had people offering us cheap, unhealthy food that we grew up on.
Confronting Culinary Control: Battling Food Industry Influences
The last thing I want to do is blame parents for the lack of knowledge on how to raise a healthy child. Sometimes I blame myself or those around me when I see my little niece eating a happy meal. I feel guilty because I know better than to feed a toddler this junk, but the issue isn’t a micro-household issue but rather a macro-social one.
There are so many large contributors to this issue, and it is not entirely easy to stop ourselves from reaching for the nearest and cheapest item. Through my research, I came across the name of Howard Moskowitz, who holds a Ph.D. in experimental psychology. He has been one of the top researchers for large corporations in dealing with habit-forming foods from pizza, soda, and soup to cereal. Alongside Moskowitz are other food engineers who are paid to construct the most highly addictive form of a product From the taste, smell, and feel of a product.
Their mission is to create a perfect version of where consumers will find it hard to say no to. The tactic is called product optimization. As described, they “alter a litany of variables with the sole intent of finding a perfect version (or versions) of a product.” From my readings, it almost felt like an almost impossible escape. It feels like we have been convinced that we have control over our lives, but in reality, we don’t.
We don’t hold control over the process of how our food Is created, we thoughtlessly consume it without question, and living in a city, it feels almost impossible not to find a fast food joint at every corner. So although I’ve sat and blamed myself or others for what I thought of as negligence from my parents, it isn’t. It’s what we are being drowned in, living in a fast food-filled society is what 75% of us live in.
The solution to the problem can be solved by raising the prices of these fast food meals and snacks and by imposing taxes on soda, candy, and other processed foods. By creating it harder and pricier to have access to these meals, it will prevent people from buying them. There are solutions to this issue, but it needs to become a right to prevent these large corporations from making a buck off helpless and naive individuals.
1.Source: National Center for Health Statistics. “Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015–2016.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, URL: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db288.pdf
2.Source: Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Lawman, H. G., et al. “Trends in Obesity Prevalence Among Children and Adolescents in the United States, 1988-1994 Through 2013-2014.” JAMA, 315(21), 2292-2299, URL: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2526638
3.Source: Lesser, L. I., Zimmerman, F. J., & Cohen, D. A. “Characteristics of Fast Food Restaurants in Four New Jersey Cities: A Cross-Sectional Study.” Environmental Health, 5(1), 1-9, URL: https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1476-069X-5-18
4.Source: Moss, M. “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food.” The New York Times, 20 February 2013, URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/magazine/the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food.html
5.Source: Brownell, K. D., Farley, T., Willett, W. C., et al. “The Public Health and Economic Benefits of Taxing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages.” New England Journal of Medicine, 361(16), 1599-1605, URL: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMhpr0905723