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.


shell said...

Oh my gosh YES it's the PARENT"S JOB to make sure their kids eat right. I'll go beyond that and say the parents need to set an example and model healthy eating and exercise behaviors! I taught elem school for 27 years and in the last 10 years I saw so many fat parents raising fat kids I could scream. It broke my heart that these poor kids did not stand a chance with their fat parents. That was/is one of my pet beefs about parents - not enough of them set good examples. I don't care how fat you are, but once you become a parent you have a responsibility for a life. Take it seriously and for pete's sake realize that it's tough enough to grow up and get through childhood as a normal size child. Kids deserve to grow up without being FAT.

CFVixen said...

1000% percent agree. Why the government is involved in this is beyond me. When are people going to take personal responsibility and not want the government to run their lives?

In this particular case,a child isn't going to take personal responsibility, but the parents sure as heck should! Why are things so haaaard for parents now? Is it because parents want to be friends with their kids instead of actually being the parent? I wonder...

Andie said...

I agree with you on a lot of the things you say regarding child freedom, but this isn't even about not having kids, it's about judging parents. You are making some huge assumptions. Yes personal responsibility is a factor, but obesity is a very complicated issue and if there was one clear cut cause it would no longer be a problem would it? I dislike when one person goes off telling others what they *should* be doing and then is completely unsympathetic to the struggles of that group of people. Some people think that everybody should have children and don't care to understand the reasons why people don't want to. This is judgmental and is based on the assumption that everybody has the same life experiences as the person passing judgment. If we desire understanding and compassion from others, we should extend this to others as well.

Temujin said...

I come at this from a slightly different angle. Why is the government restricting so many of my food choices (as an adult!) for my own good? Or in the name of The Children? If I want to order food with trans fat in it, then let me order it. You can warn me about the dangers and let me have a choice, and let the restaurants have a choice.

There are plenty of adults who order Happy Meals for themselves, sometimes because of the toy. Banning fast food companies from selling toys with their meals seems totally asinine, and full of loopholes anyway.

When we abdicate our individual responsibility and give it to the state, we also give away a lot of freedom. My body belongs to me, not to society. Food bans treat us all like children.

Spectra said...

When we were kids, we only ever got Happy Meals/kid's meals as a special treat and only if they had a really cool toy with them. We usually cared more about the mini Barbie dolls and Matchbox cars than the crappy food. I often ate just the cheeseburger and left most of the cold, overly salty fries. And yes, when we were kids, we played outside a lot. Hey, there was no internet back then--we rode bikes, played 4-square and hopscotch, had races, jumped rope, etc. I don't know how parents these days cope with having their kids inside all the time. That would drive me nuts. My sister usually puts her 4 year old in front of the computer and lets him watch YouTube videos when she wants him out of her hair.

Let's face it; most parents are pretty lazy when it comes to feeding and entertaining their kids. My dad always bought us homemade snacks--peanut butter and crackers or celery, carrot sticks, apples, oranges, yogurts, etc. We rarely ate processed stuff because it was expensive and not very nutritious.

shell said...

@Andie - I disagree. Children who are stuck with parents who are not feeding them correctly are being abused. So those parents need to be judged. My 18 year old nephew killed himself 4 years ago because he was obese. His parents fed him all the wrong things and did not set good examples. His mother was obese. So they contributed to a premature death. It was a tragedy that did not need to happen.

Christine said...


Childfreeeee said...

Great comments, all.

AND ANOTHER THING - this is AMERICA where we have freedom to live our lives the way we see fit. And McDonald's is part of the free marketplace. They wouldn't SELL the shit they sell if people were snapping it up. And by PEOPLE, I mean PARENTS, since five year old kids can't buy this shit for themselves.

Yes, obesity IS a complex issue, but it is a FACT that obesity is an epidemic NOW and it wasn't even 20 years ago. So what gives? Has corporate America changed that much in 20 years? Not really. Have parenting styles changed much? You betcha. And then some. And not for the better.

Kids are fat because nobody is guiding them. Nobody is teaching them. Nobody is correcting them. Nobody is watching them. Nobody is saying no.

Christy said...

My first thought was the same as Temujin's.

I also agree with Shell, that not making the hard choices and teaching your child healthy eating habits is abuse, especially since our society places so much value on being thin. Whenever kids have any kind of disagreement with other kids, the first thing out of the *less fat* kid's mouth is going to be "Oh yeah? Well, you're FAT!" If you're female, it's going to be "fat bitch," And since most humans are delightful creative beings capable of such a wide and varied vocabulary, the same morons who called a kid "fat bitch" at age 10 will still be calling her a fat bitch anytime they have a disagreement at age 40 or 70, because that's just how clever and "amazing" people are.

Even if a person doesn't have a weight problem in youth, their metabolism will catch up to them in their teens or soon thereafter. Sometimes the fat can get caked on so thick and for so long, you can never get it off. It's heartbreaking. I have some obese family members with really skinny little kids, and they seem to revel and glory in how they *created* such a tiny kid. I remind them, Hey! I grew up with you. I saw you! You were that skinny once, too, and look at you now!

shell said...

Kids are not able to choose what they eat so they are at the mercy of their [ often ] idiotic parents! As a former teacher I can't tell you how often I felt distress at what I saw parents providing for their kids to eat.

The entire world population is in BIG trouble.
My husband and I have no kids but I am concerned for the people 40 & under alive today.
My nieces & their kids!
What will the planet be like in 30 years from now?
I'll be dead by then but I hate to think about how it will be.
OVER a billion people on the planet are now OBESE.
About a billion people on the planet now have hypertension.
18 million people a year die of heart disease.
The grim prediction is that within 30 years 30-40% of the populations will have type 2 diabetes
The human animal is deteriorating and we have widespread environmental destruction of our planet.
Even if I was young now and wanted kids I don't think it would be good to bring them into this world.

Temujin said...

I was an obese kid myself and it was because of the regular menu, NOT the kid's menu. From a very young age, I preferred to order what the adults were eating, because the Happy Meal was "not enough food" for me and because I wanted to do the cool grown-up stuff. My parents indulged me because after all I was acting mature and was politely ordering from the adult menu. And it meant that I sat quietly and behaved myself. Win-win for everyone.

It wasn't until I was 10 and asking them to buy me a 20-piece McNugget meal with the works just for me that they started to suggest I was eating too much.

I'm guessing that getting rid of the Happy Meals will actually backfire in some cases -- more kids will be getting Big Macs intead of those dinky little burgers.

Crap. This is making my stomach growl.

Artemis said...

I am new around, but I have been reading all the posts since I discover the word "childfree".

Poor of my mom, she just loved to get the toys from those meals (and, no, her and her kids are not obese).
For me and my brother, McDonald´s food were not more than occasional "tourism" food - from when we wanted something different to eat after going to a park. It was always food, not MEAL (a difference that parents have trouble understanding nowadays) never something to be eaten more than once a month. I am proud of having such amazing parents, and it really makes me sad they need to bug companies with this.

sara star said...

I mostly agree, though I think you are romanticizing our childhoods a bit. My brother and I did throw the occasional tantrum, and my mother occasionally gave in. But the rest is all true--we ate at McDonalds a few times a month. And a regular restaurant maybe a few times a year. We kids played outside, A LOT. I remember in high school, we even played outside in the rain.

We always sat down to dinner, and there were always vegetables and rarely desert. Mom was no chef, but she made sure we ate healthy food.

sara star said...

I think in some ways the government should set a better example. And really they are now. When I was growing up the food pyramid said you should serve 6-11 servings of grain a day. That is a lot of grain, and when it isn't even specified as whole grain, that is going to lead to a lot of obesity. If the education aspect is unhealthy and incorrect--you haven't a good basis. The daily recommended healthy breakfast shown on TV was a bowl of cereal (with milk in it) with a glass of milk, and a glass of juice and a piece of toast. That is two servings of grains in most cases and two servings of dairy. That is way too much carbohydrates and sugar and a lot of milk.

The government does have a role in this, but I don't see how a cheap plastic toy has anything to do with this, parents will still take kids to McDonalds, toys or not.

Happily CF said...

EXACTLY. Happy Meals contained toys when I was a kid in the '70s and '80s, and my parents would NEVER buy them for me. Most kids I know ate at McDonalds very, VERY infrequently. Many of the supposed "causes" of the obesity epidemic do not hold water, because they do not account for the fact that this "epidemic" has only sprung up in the last 15 or 20 years. (Therefore, we cannot blame genetics, etc... have genes changed that much in what is basically an evolutionary nanosecond?)

Roxie Harlow said...

I have to agree with most of the comments here. I didn't have the most capable parents growing up, but they made sure my brothers and I ate veggies and good meals! We rarely had desserts, snack foods, or fast food. Happy Meals were usually a rare treat bought by our grandparents. My father always had a vegetable garden and made lots of things using what he grew in it. We played outside ALL the time! We'd be out until almost dark (during the summer) playing tag and other games. We also had video games and cable, but there was a limit.

It seems to me that now parents are afraid or too lazy to discipline their kids or prepare meals for them. I worked at a restaurant(not fast food) for years and saw entire families that were obese. I felt terrible for the kids that never even had a chance. A family of 4 had to sit in a booth intended for 6 people because they couldn't fit in the smaller ones. In my opinion, parents need to be less afraid/lazy and take care of the kids they CHOSE to have.

Zen Trekkie said...

It's awfully insensitive of some of the commenters here to put down fat people,like we're worthy of condemnation. It's interesting - and very telling - that people who bitch about fat people treat it as an "us and them" scenario, as if fat people are "less than."
Today, fat people are seen as the next thing to evil, and not even treated as if they are PEOPLE. It is the last group that it's socially acceptable to torment and ridicule, as evidenced by shell's comment.
Many people don't realize that just because you are skinny, it doesn't mean you're healthy - and just because you're fat, it doesn't mean you're unhealthy. Case in point:
I am 5'6" and 240lbs - a size 20-22 (depending on the brand of jeans). My blood pressure is great, my cholesterol (so my doctor claims)is better than his. My resting glucose test is well within the normal range. All of my problems are orthopedic - back and knee problems, from OVEREXERCISING when I was in the Marine Corps.

Perhaps Health at Every Size can give you some information on healthy vs. disordered eating:

and perhaps the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance can help you learn some skills to be more tolerant of people who you don't find physically attractive or whom you brand as unhealthy without knowing them:

It's awfully puzzling that this "epidemic" hasn't resulted in earlier deaths. Despite the DEATHFATZ, life expectancies in developed countries continue to rise or remain stable. Huh. Weird.

Roxie Harlow said...

This isn't a fat vs. skinny thing. You don't have to be a stick figure to be healthy. It's about how many parents don't bother with proper nutrition or promote kids getting exercise by playing outside, running around, etc. These parents find it easier to sit them in front of a tv/video game with greasy fast food. Don't make this into something it isn't.

Zen Trekkie said...

I'm not making this into something it isn't - I was just going along with the general tone of the comments, i.e., Fat=BAD. Fat kids are people too.
There are many negative views toward fat and fat people expressed in the article and in the comments. I know what it's like to have a single mother that works her ass off - and is so DEAD TIRED that she didn't have the energy to cook us a well-rounded meal. I was raised sans cell phones and fast computers, and I had chores, so I didn't have the luxury of sitting on my ass all day like some kids do. Not all people have a crap-ton of time on their hands to cook, or money for fresh food (see the newer post, about grocery bills, and you'll get it).

Check your privilege.

Aragon131 said...

Still I think parents are always the person untimatel responsible. I recall when Diane Sawyer did a story on Kentucky and the epidemic of "Mountain Dew Mouth". Diane spoke of children under five who had cavities in every single baby tooth the had, because their parents had been feeding them Mountain Dew since age 2 even putting MD in their baby bottles. Teens who pulled their own teeth with pliers because they didn't have dental insurance and were in unendurable pain. Dentists who volunteered their time to help poor and disadvantaged. And who did Diane Sawyer blame? Pepsico. a 2 year old CANNOT buy MD for her/himself nor do they have the dexterity or cognitive skills to put MD in a baby bottle. And Diane Sawyer blames Pepsico?

Dave said...

"AuĂ° said...
It's awfully puzzling that this "epidemic" hasn't resulted in earlier deaths. Despite the DEATHFATZ, life expectancies in developed countries continue to rise or remain stable. Huh. Weird...."

Have you ever seen an obese 80 or 90 year old? The answer is no, they all die early deaths. We all know a smoker who lived to 100, but I'll bet you a grand you don't know a 5'6" 240 pound woman who lived to 100.

Zen Trekkie said...

very few people live to be 100, fat or skinny. I know NOT ONE person who lived to be 100. My fat great aunt died at 92, though. How's that for longevity?

brettc said...

McDonald's and the other chains are just doing what they have to in order to get the toy into kids hands. Since the government apparently knows best and what not. Parents are ultimately responsible for their kids' welfare. Unfortunately there seem to be a lot of stupid parents today. When I was young (in the 80s), we might have gone to McDonald's or one of the other fast food chains once a month, if that.

My mother has always made it known that she hates cooking but even though she worked all day, she always came home and cooked a meal for us that usually consisted of meat, vegetables and a some bread. And we ate at the table as a family. My dad hated McDonald's and I never understood why. So usually it was my mum that took me and my brother. Now I understand why he hated McDonald's because I don't want to go there either and deal with screaming kids and eat their crappy food!

Parents today are way too lazy and irresponsible and I think technology is a big contributor. It's mind boggling that people will pop out a kid (or 4) and then have little interest in actually raising them and cooking for them. (But Facebook is pretty important). Things have changed drastically in about 25 years and not really for the better.

Anonymous said...

I grew up chubby in the 80's when most kids were thin. I didn't eat much fast food and had a pretty healthy diet - but I was an only child who preferred to read and draw, and my parents had to urge me endlessly to go outside and play. NOW, it does seem like most parents do not even allow their kids to play outside in my area, much less encourage them to do so. Among most parents I know, it seems like picking up fast food is a near-nightly ritual. While some of their kids have high metabolism or are involved in sports, this still sets the scene for the kids to be lazy and eat crappy food when they are older. It will catch up with them, I'm sure. I really think our society has become more sedentary and convenience oriented than even in the 80's or the 90's.