With nearly a third of American children and adolescents classified as overweight or obese, many people have been desperately searching for a scapegoat. San Francisco recently passed a law restricting companies like McDonald’s or Burger King from giving away free toys with their unhealthy kid’s meals. Although these companies found ways around the law, it raises the question: who really is responsible for this mess?
American parents have to face the facts: their kids are getting fat. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Robert S. Wieder of CalorieLab.com reports on the site’s health blog, 38% of California public school kids (5th to 9th graders) classify as either overweight or obese. California’s figures are not unique, either. A 2008 CDC report revealed over a third of American children and adolescents classify as either overweight or obese.
While health experts have recognized the immediate need to address this epidemic, many people have frantically searched for a “smoking gun” on who to blame for America’s national weight problem. Some people, such as Wieder, see the fast food mega-corporations as obvious targets to blame. Wieder’s blog entry mentions a recent San Francisco initiative to help stop fast food companies from marketing directly to kids.
A bay area law passed last Wednesday prevents fast food companies from providing free toys with children’s meals unless those meals met certain nutritional requirements. Some of these requirements include limiting the amount of dietary fat and adding servings of fruits or vegetables to the meal.
Rather than simply complying with this newly passed restriction, some of the big fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King have found a loophole to escape the law. Since the law calls for restricting meals which come with free toys, both of the food corporations will instead charge for the toys. The Chronicle also reported on this. For a mere dime more per order, customers can order the same unhealthy kid’s meal with a toy, and the fast food companies can feel satisfied that they’re following this new regulation.
Perhaps this debacle shows why legislators should remain slightly more reluctant to assign blame and write laws around it. Many critics have scolded the fast food giants, and in many ways that criticism is justified. Rather than make a few healthy changes to their menus, these companies found a cheaper and easier solution. Their collective focus never left their business models and profit levels. Money matters more than health for them, apparently.
On the other hand, lawmakers seemed all too eager to blame fast food for the childhood obesity epidemic. Why were fast food companies singled out for their marketing techniques? The law seemed to be forcing companies like McDonald’s and Burger King to follow nutritional standards unrelated to their business models. After all, they would argue that no one is forcing children to eat these meals.
Ultimately, consumers speak loudest with their wallets. Parents must take more responsibility in their children’s health and nutrition. Fast food may be quick and easy, but it’s one of many factors contributing to the nation’s obesity problem. Once parents start demanding healthier options by refusing to spend their money on unhealthy food for their children, corporations like McDonald’s and Burger King will have to change or face extinction.