Tuesday, March 31

Adolescent Obesity

University of California and Columbia University researchers found a connection between obesity in adolescent children and the location of fast food restaurants. “…the researchers found that obesity rates were 5 percent higher among the ninth graders whose schools were within one-tenth of a mile of a pizza, burger or other popular fast-food outlet, compared with students attending schools farther away from fast-food stores” (NY Times). I chose this article not specifically for location of schools, but also to question national food regulation in general. It’s no mystery that the majority of fast food is manufactured without the health conscious in mind. Aside from violating certain free market rights, should there be restrictions on food quality in fast food restaurants?
I think it’s necessary to question the results of the research that was published. It seems possible that these results reflect an inference to the best explanation. There are many factors that influence a child’s diet that could reflect their weight i.e. parental influence, poverty, physiological/genetic factors etc. But if these results are accurately reflected in the scope of the study, what should we do about it? Perhaps impose proximity regulations on businesses looking to move into school zones. Limiting the ease of access seems like a reasonable solution to this problem. A better plan may be to educate kids on nutrition and health to equip them with skills to make good decisions. I personally attended a high school with an open campus lunch and a mediocre nutrition education program. Fast food was the primary lunch destination for the majority of the students. When so much of our adult population is obese, how are we supposed to help the kids? I am in favor of national regulation of downright “crappy” food. But I understand the problems associated with this type of regulation. What do you guys think?


  1. This is an interesting article. I went to a high school that also had an open campus policy and we were close to downtown where all of the fast food resurants were. Most of the upperclassmen went off campus to eat, but we also had a large population of students that were involved in extra-cirricular activities. I have a difficult time drawing the conclusion that obesity is higher if school are near fast food outlets since this was not evident at my high school. I wonder what all of the controls were in this research. For one thing, most children in middle school and high school have weight fluctuations based on hormones and growth rates. There may also be health conditions that are unknown at that age.

    I don't think national regulation of food quatliy would be great way to ensure that the food in resuraunts is healthy. But it would be very difficult to regulate, and many people oppose the idea because they don't want the government telling them what they can and can't eat. I think education is a the most viable answer at this point. There were many health education programs at my high school and we were all encouraged to participate in athletic activities. Maybe schools could require more classes that teach the importance of balancing exercise AND a healthy diet. It isn't just food that is the problem. In our busy society, many adults don't set aside time to exercise regularly and this is the example that children are seeing. If students are taught at an early age that exercise and diet work together to becoming a healthy individual, the obesity problem could be reduced.

  2. Forewarning: this is an emotionally charged issue for me, so I'm not promising a "fair and balanced" discussion in the paragraphs to follow.

    In my opinion, something has to be done about our nation's rising child and adult obesity problem, even if it means regulating the fast food industry. For something as important as our food and health, this mega-industry is far under-regulated. Fast/junk food corporate giants have capitalized on our American lifestyle of being too busy (or too lazy) to prepare a home-cooked meal. Why spend an hour or two cooking a pot roast when you can zip through the drive-thru at McDonald's and pick up a tasty meal for less than five bucks? Particularly vulnerable are children and even us poor college students - kids are offered an array of brightly-colored candies and sodas in school vending machines, and college students can indulge in trans-fat laden frozen pizzas and MSG-ridden Top Ramen (believe me, I could go on). A cursory glance at the ingredients list of most processed and packaged foods is enough to confuse even a PhD in chemistry.

    I see at least three main problems underlying our nation’s obesity problem in relation to the food industries: First, the vast majority of questionable ingredients in processed and packaged foods are unregulated and in many cases have not undergone extensive health safety studies (understandable given the sheer volume of food additives used today). Second, the fast/junk food industry preys on our busy-ness/laziness, whichever you prefer, and it works all too well. Think about all the ads you see during prime-time TV commercial breaks and on billboards when you’re driving down the highway. What’s more, many of these “foods” are offered at unbeatable prices, putting poor people in a very vulnerable place. Worst, they market unhealthy products specifically to our children with commercials during cartoons and by placing candy and sweet stuffs at eye-level in grocery supermarkets. Third, and this is most fundamental, we allow this to happen because we’ve been conditioned from an early age to believe this is just the way it goes. We succumb to the busy lifestyle and the cheap food, probably because we have to based on economic conditions or otherwise. This is not just a problem caused by the food industry, but by many aspects of our society. It seems that we feel like if we’re not being “productive” all the time, we’re simply wasting time, so we keep working harder and harder until we’re so exhausted we give up altogether, turn on the TV, and throw an Easy-Mac in the microwave. Maybe I’m overexaggerating, but in many cases, I don’t think I am.

    What makes me the most sad about all of this is that we’ve lost touch with a healthy relationship to our food, and this has resulted in more than just rising obesity and obesity-related diseases. Huge monocultures of staples like corn and wheat deplete natural soil nutrients, threaten biodiversity, and ravage ecosystems. (Furthermore, genetically-modified crops carry more than biological consequences, with Roundup-ready seed company Monsanto threatening to put many small farmers out of business over proprietary issues and plant interbreeding). On the whole, we consume more food but take in less nutrition than ever before.

    Despite my obvious angst (in fact I’m surprised if it hasn’t driven you away at this point), I don’t think the food industry is completely hopeless. There are a lot of socially/environmentally responsible companies producing nutritious foods for children and adults, and there are many consumer advocacy groups pushing for increased regulation and accountability. New York City has already banned trans fats from their foods, and they've started requiring restaurants, bakeries, delis and coffee shops to indicate caloric and other nutritional information in plain view for the consumer. I applaud these efforts, even as radical as they are. I don’t know whether this is the best solution or even what a plausible alternative would be, but for me it amounts to refusing fast food and taking the time to cook a freaking stir-fry made from real vegetables and grains every once in a while.

    P.S. Matthew, my other post in response to Justin is much less opinionated and more rational, so please grade that one instead of this one :)

  3. Should the food industry be regulated on where it can operate? I believe the simple answer to be no, absolutely not. This article does point out how there are clearly an increase in obesity amongst our youth, but is fast food really to blame. Here is my rant/opinion (whatever you want to call it) on this issue. Businesses exist to meet the need of consumers. Their reason for existence is to provide a product or service to consumers who demand or need their goods provided. Fast food exists because more and more Americans have become, lazy, busy, and cheap and want an inexpensive meal quick, regardless of the nutritional facts. If consumers wanted a nutritional meal they would show it by not visiting these unhealthy restaurants, in turn, the restaurants would offer a healthier menu in order to keep their patronage up. My point here is that businesses exist to meet the demand of the consumer. If the business failed to meet these demands they would go out of business (unless the government offered them a bailout package j/k).

    In my opinion the restaurants are not to blame for this increase in obesity it is the parents and the lack of knowledge being taught to this kids. If parents would actually talk to their kids about nutrition or physical activity (or if the parents simply made them a lunch form home) we would see a drastic decrease in childhood obesity. Schools should also place greater emphasis at a younger age about making healthy choices and the consequences of not choosing to eat and exercise right. If we being to regulate where restaurants operate we would greatly hurt our own economy. Only through education will we be able to reduce the obesity issue and still keep our restaurant industry intact.

  4. This is in response to Alex's post. I really don't buy the argument that, because businesses exist to meet the need of consumers, and fast food is simply a response to consumer demand, that the fast food industry isn't to blame for our nation's obesity problem. Sure, fast food still exists and prospers because we continue to be lazy and in a constant hurry, but I don't think we have a conscious demand for unhealthy fast food. I think that rather than the industry responding to our needs, they have a large portion of us (no pun intended) chained to their system. Given the choice of a healthy salad for $10 in an upscale cafe and a "value" meal at McDonalds for only $5, of course the person who is strapped on cash is going to choose McDonalds (and hey, if she's got 3 kids to feed they get even better deals--happy meals!). Maybe this is what she truly wants for herself, but I'm more inclined to believe that the system has been set up so that she has no other viable option.

    I'm not asking for draconian legislation over the fast food industry, or of any food industry for that matter (on another point entirely, the H.R. bill 875 on Food Safety Modernization is something particularly worrisome to me, as it seeks to establish extensive requirements for agricultural and other food-production establishments; such broad regulation can be crippling to small farms and businesses). What I am asking is that fast food corporations take responsibility for the safety of the ingredients in our food and their marketing tactics directed at financially disadvantaged people. I wish they had the willpower to do so on their own, but I think they need a little push (banning trans-fats and putting a cap on high-fructose corn syrup use would be a good start, in my opinion). Of course this is not the only part of the solution, and responsible parenting has a much greater component. However, we have to start by making healthy options more readily available and affordable, especially when it comes to children, who do not have a conscious consumer demand for junk food. Education is a good accompaniment, but alone it is never enough.


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