Friday, December 2, 2011
Happy Meals - Just Say No
Question of the day: Who is responsible for the obesity epidemic among children?
My answer: Parents
The food police would like to blame McDonald's and other fast food establishments, as evidenced by recent legislation in San Fransisco that bans fast food restaurants from giving away free toys with their meals. But let's get real. It is the PARENTS that purchase said meals. It is the PARENTS who use televisions and computers as babysitters for their kids and let their kids be seduced by McDonald's commercials all day long. It is the PARENTS that give in when their kids stomp their feet and demand Happy Meals. No parent has a gun to her head forcing her to feed her kid fattening, low-nutrition, fast food.
Yet in our culture of overly-permissive parenting, where kids rule the roost and dictate what they will eat and how little they will exercise, the blame gets shifted to everyone except the people who are ultimately responsible - the parents.
Yes, McDonald's gives away toys with its kiddie meals. They've been doing that since I was a kid, yet there was no obesity epidemic when I was young. Why? Because kids of my generation were - at our parents' insistence - outside playing. We were riding bikes, running around, playing kickball, climbing trees, creating obstacle courses and burning lots of calories in the process. Food was fuel for our growing bodies. We weren't locked in our rooms, sitting on our butts with our faces in front of a screen. We ate dinner seated at the kitchen table every night, and there were vegetables served with every meal. We weren't shoveling down mass-produced slop in the back of a mini-van. Meals at McDonald's were a once-in-a-while treat, not a 3 times/week savior for parents who are too busy or preoccupied to cook a well-balanced meal. And it would not even occur to us to insist on ANYTHING. Our parents made the rules, not us, and if they said "no Happy Meal", that was the end of it.
It's different today. Apparently, parents have no control over what - or how much - their kids eat, and they are unwilling to say NO. They don't know how to control or discipline their kids, so they cajole and bribe them with junk food - a reward for using the potty, a reward for not having a meltdown, a reward for a good grade, a reward for breathing. Consequently, children develop an unhealty, emotional, addictive relationship with food, instead of a healthy one where food is treated as sustenance.
McDonald's - and other corporate entitites that profit from sales to children -are of course manipulative, crafty, and creative and they probably have a team of highly-paid consultants advising them on the most effective way to brainwash little minds into intense desire for their "food". They're in business to make a profit, after all - that's their job. But no matter how much the government tries to spread the blame around and legislate healthy eating, the buck stops with the parent. Parenting is their job. And if the parent can't erect enough of a spine to say no when his kid screams for a Happy Meal, then he has no business being a parent in the first place.