Why Children Are More Vulnerable

When I was a little girl, I would always plead my mom to take me to McDonalds for a Happy Meal. Fast, greasy nuggets with french-fries that came in a cute smiley box, and included a surprise toy, seemed like the best meal I could ever have. However, due to my age and lack of knowledge, I was not aware of the unhealthiness of the food I was consuming, and the fact that the box and the toys which I found very appealing was a way of luring me into buying the Happy Meal. Such behavior is exactly what the fast food industry wants to create, and thus one of the biggest problems of it. The purpose of this essay is to consider the vulnerability of children to the fast food industry. This issue is substantial because, since the rise of fast foods, there has been an increase in obesity and early diabetes in children. In the following paragraphs, I will first explain the reasons the effect of advertising fast foods in children. Next, I will explain the children’s lack of freedom of choice, and finally, I will explain the extent at which federal and schools have gone to aid children’s health.

Children are the most vulnerable when it comes to exposition to media. As mentioned by Schor and Ford “the average eight to eighteen year old is currently exposed to eight-and-a-half hours of media a day, almost all of which is ‘commercial’ media,” (Schor, 274) in which at least 40% belongs to the food industry. Because of children’s high exposition to the media, it gives a lot of room for markers to seduce children. Therefore, marketers have developed different types of commercializing, such as packaging, giveaways, character licensing, promotion of events, peer-to-peer, and more. However, one of the most effective techniques for the fast food industry is the advertisement of junk food as oppositional. “The message that oppositional attitudes are cool, that junk food is oppositional, therefore junk food is cool.”(Schor, 277) In other words, the fact that parents say disagree with junk food because it is not healthy, makes the children want it even more.

Another great factor to consider is the fact that children lack freedom of choice, whether they depend on what their parents can and choose to provide them, or what their schools offer during their meal times. Because children depend on their parents to buy their food, many of them do not take part in the decision making when buying it, especially if they come from lower income families where the resources are highly limited. The documentary, Food, Inc. shows a perfect example of a low-income family that, because of the lack of money, it is more convenient for them to buy fast foods that are cheaper, than to buy healthy food at the market. The documentary made it clear that this situation is causing great health effects on the family. “The fact is the father has diabetes, and the young daughter, who’s 13, has- sort of a precondition for diabetes. They are spending tremendous amount of their paycheck towards medicine to keep them healthy. So they were forced- they were thinking, okay, we’ll go buy a cheap quick meal.” (Food, Inc.) Like many other lower income families, the family in this documentary shows the inevitable chain of events that happens when families lack the resources to eat healthy food. This eventually affects their health and even their expenses, as they have to spend more money on medical issues, which decreases their chances of a healthy diet.

Children also lack freedom of choice in their food in school cafeterias. Children spend most of their meals in school, whose food “is often mass-produced and chosen for its cost-effectiveness. While this can save the school money, the students suffer from foods high in carbohydrates, high in sugar, low in fiber and lacking in many of the recommended food groups.” (Boehlke) Because of this, children have no option but to eat those kinds of foods, resulting in the rise of obesity rates.

Fortunately, there have been some movements that have begun to regulate children’s exposition and access to unhealthy food. For example, in 2011 San Francisco passed a toy ban on McDonald’s Happy Meals. “The ban targets Happy Meal-style toys, claiming that the inclusion of an incentive item unfairly targets marketing at children who are unable to make healthy decisions for themselves.” (San Francisco) However, the result of the ban was not as effective as it was expected. Instead of improving the healthiness of the happy meals, McDonalds decided to sell the toy separately by charging and extra 10 cents for the toy. Nevertheless, even though McDonalds found another way to skip the law, it has had a positive impact of which legislators are content with, as for “McDonald’s started offering options like milk and apple slices with its Happy Meals in July, and Jack in the Box dropped toys from children’s meals all together.” (San Francisco) Thus, with the incentive of the ban, the fast food industry is starting to provide healthy choices for children. On a school level, school districts have implemented additional nutritional standards in the meals they serve, and are considering ways to minimize sales and marketing of junk foods. (Public Health Law Center) Other schools have had further incentives on healthy eating. For example, a school in California responded to a hunger strike by the children by switching to a healthier food supplier called Revolution Foods. Their products include healthy choices that are locally produced and do not include added chemicals, antibiotics or hormones. Additionally, they also have “ an emphasis on using children to design, and test, the meals,” in which the children test and design the healthy food options and until they find the taste they prefer. By doing so, “the proportion of children choosing to accept free meals has gone from less than half to over 85%. Visits to the school nurse plummeted, and complaints of stomach-ache and headaches have almost vanished. Teachers say everyone works better in the afternoons.” (Biting Commentary) After that, over 114 schools in San Francisco hired Revolution Foods as their school’s food distributer. Nevertheless, these are only a few schools out of the many in the United States. Due to the negative effects fast foods and unhealthy food options has had on children’s health, there have been incentives to better such problem in federal, and school district levels; however, it is a problem that still needs more development and caution. With more awareness on this cause, there may be more enticement to better kid’s health.

References:

Boehlke, Julie. Childhood Obesity & Elementary School Cafeteria Food. The Economist. October 21, 2013, available at http://www.livestrong.com/article/519859-childhood-obesity-elementary-school-cafeteria-food/.

San Francisco Happy Meal Toy Ban Takes Effect, Sidestepped by McDonald’s. Huffington Post. November 30, 2011, available at post.com/2011/11/30/san-francisco-happy-meal-ban_n_1121186.html.

Biting Commentary — A new company is trying to make school meals healthier. The Economist. May 4, 2013, available at http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21577098-new-company-trying-make-school-meals-healthier-biting-commentary.

Public Health Law Center. Healthy Eating, available at http://publichealthlawcenter.org/topics/healthy-eating.

Kenner, Robert (director). Food, Inc. (documentary) Magnolia Productions. 2008.

Schor, J. & Ford, M., From Tastes Great to Cool: Children’s Food Marketing and the Rise of the Symbolic. Law & Ethics In The Business Environment. March, 2007.