June 12, 2006
Abstract: The obesity epidemic has reached incredibly high levels. Among the major contributing factors are fast food and advertising. It is important to understand the causes if we want to get the crisis under control. After having reviewed many books written by experts, I found that not only is fast food and advertising partly to blame, but the family dynamic as well. This rising crisis is putting our children at risk, for overweight children usually grow to overweight adults.
The Obesity Crisis: Our Children are Suffering
It is common knowledge that fast food, sodas and junk food, spending excessive amounts of time sitting in front of the television, and lack of exercise are unhealthy choices. Yet why are Americans getting fatter by the scores? Most researchers seem to agree that our Westernized culture encourages the obesity epidemic and Americans relish their core values of choice, freedom and liberty. The problem begins with our children, who are easily influenced and raised by their families who serve as their role models. Fast food and advertising targeted at children successfully contributes to the obesity epidemic because the deterioration of the family dynamic in the last twenty years has caused America to become the fattest nation. Times Have Changed Since the Eighties
First, I would like to show the correlation between the rising rate of obesity and the going-ons of the past twenty years. The World Health Organization (2006) has reported that "the number of overweight children has doubled and the number of overweight adolescents has trebled since 1980" (WHO, 2006). Eric Schlosser (2001) has claimed that advertising directed towards children skyrocketed in the 1980's, especially running during programs on networks such as Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel, and the Cartoon Network, none of which were around before 1979 (p. 46). Children's clubs, such as the Mickey Mouse Club for example, expanded during the 1980's. Corporations use these clubs as "effective means of targeting ads and collecting demographic information" (p. 45). The Burger King Kids Club alone "increased the sales of children's meals as much as 300 percent" (p. 45). Schlosser (2001) also noted that a typical teenage boy drinks three times as much soda as he did in 1978, and teenage girls' soda intake has doubled since then. Teenage boys also drink twice as much soda as they do milk compared to twenty years ago (p. 54).
Another reason for the obesity rate increase, according to Jayachandran N. Variyam (2005), since the eighties is due to the lower time cost of food, which includes saving time preparing food, technological advances, and lower food prices. Americans have more access to food now more than ever, not only with the abundance of mega-grocery stores and fast food restaurants, but also having access to seasonal foods year-round. And not only are there unlimited varieties of foods from which to choose, there's plenty of it. Larimore, Flynt, and Halliday (2005) have noted that children visit fast-food restaurants five times as much as they did in the 1970's and portion sizes have also dramatically increased since then (p. 27).
Family structure has also changed since the eighties. It is very common now, actually the norm, to have two working parents, or a single working parent. Mary Eberstadt (2004) correlates the rising obesity levels of the last twenty years with the absence of parents, particularly the percentage of working mothers, which has increased 64.6 percent since 1980 (p. 43). This leaves less time for children to be supervised, and more time to indulge in unhealthy snacks, video games, and television watching. Larimore et al. (2005) has even pointed out that we have shorter attention spans. Scenes in shows such as Bonanza or I Love Lucy lasted ninety seconds or longer, whereas a shot in current television shows last less that eight seconds before the...