Essay Preview: Obesity
Report this essay
1 Why are children getting fatter?
Food is cheaper than ever, particularly the popular “value” lines. Today, its possibly
cheaper to eat snacks and ready meals than fruit and vegetables. Work and time
commitments mean convenience foods are frequently selected instead of home
cooking. This has become a vicious circle so children are now growing up without
the knowledge and experience of cooking.
Marketing campaigns for confectionery are stronger and louder than healthy eating
messages. The use of character merchandising and peer pressure often means that
parents give in to the pester power of children in the supermarket. Quite commonly
2-tier advertising campaigns are being used. Initially products are marketed to
children using cool character merchandising and early morning broadcasting slots.
Then manufacturers send a healthy and convenience message on the product to the
parent at the point of purchase.
Another obvious factor is inactivity. Parents are scared to let their children play in the
streets and parks and are opting to keep children inside, protected against the world.
The lure of TVs, Playstations and computers to quieten a confined child, is strong. It
appears that the parental fear of stranger childhood abduction is greater than the fear
of childhood obesity. The statistics of obesity and abduction could suggest that there
is more threat in inactivity and poor nutrition, than successful child abduction2.
2 Who should be responsible for addressing the problem?
Whoever or whatever started the problem, the most important question is now who is
going to rectify it? Should it be Parliament, Manufacturers, Retailers, Advertisers,
Character Licensors, the Parents, or maybe even the Children themselves?
Many lay the blame firmly at the feet of industry for manufacturing and marketing the
products. Yes, industry has a role in the supply chain; however, the products are
labeled, so consumer information and choice are available. Yes, perhaps businesses
should be more responsible when deciding which products to market with character
merchandising. However, many companies are now recognizing their influence and
are reviewing their lines. A clear example is the recent review by the BBC over the
products merchandised with their popular pre-school characters such as Teletubbies.
Retailers also have a strong influence in public nutrition with the majority of food
being purchased from supermarkets. Many contend therefore that supermarkets
should be accountable. But surely consumers, particularly parents and children,
cannot transfer blame this easily? Despite marketing and children pester power,
manufacturers and supermarkets cannot force families to buy multi-packs of crisps,
pizzas and processed lunchbox snacks, instead of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Purchasers make this decision because its easier than spending 45 minutes preparing
a nutritious snack.
Also, until recently, reluctance to become a Nanny State has meant that Parliament
and the EU Commission preferred increasing labelling to more extreme actions such
as advertising restrictions or compositional requirements for childrens food. This
approach is not working and thus the tide is changing, with MPs on the Common
Health Select Committee saying Ministers must prepare to intervene if industry
agreements on marketing and composition do not show results. The Committee
favoured government action over consumer information. It wants the Food Standards
Agency (FSA) to draw up a traffic light system of food and drink labels with red
being for high energy, amber being medium and green for low.
When private individuals cannot make the correct choice and this affects the public
interest, then perhaps the state should legislate. This is true for tobacco, alcohol and
drugs – they are restricted by age, classified according to their danger and are taxed.
A child cannot buy spirits or tobacco so should they be permitted to purchase fast
food and bags of confectionery with their pocket money?
Perhaps the state should intervene and protect children from either their own choices
or inadequate parenting? In an era when billions are being spent on mandatory GM
detection and labelling, without the problem even being one of safety, perhaps
attention should instead be turned to compositional and marketing standards for
childrens food? Possibly, this is better use of Industry and the Commissions time
Alternatively, perhaps the answer lies with local authorities. Maybe ideas can be
pioneered on transport, planning and school meals that would change childrens
futures? Or perhaps