The prevalence of obesity has reached epidemic proportions. It is on the rise in various parts of the world, affecting the rich and the poor alike. The most alarming issue is that obesity now affects people across all age groups including children and adolescents. According to the World Health Organization, the prevalence of overweight in children under five years rose by 1.3% between 1990 and 2014. This percentage translates to 10 million new cases over the same period. Childhood obesity in lower middle-income countries also increased from 7.5 million to 15.5 million. With such alarming statistics, stakeholders have invested time and money in trying to answer questions about obesity in children. Does it occur naturally as the world changes or are there specific factors at play? Tackling childhood obesity is a matter that needs urgent attention before the issue goes out of hand.
Obesity is a term used to describe excess body fat measured using the Body Mass Index (BMI). The weight of the child is measured in kilograms and divided by the square of the height in meters. When the result is 95% or higher, one is diagnosed with obesity. This condition puts them at risk of developing life-threatening diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Do fast food companies contribute to the childhood obesity crisis? This question is the focus of this research to find out it if they play a role in this epidemic. It is a well-known fact that the fast food companies sell foods with a high caloric content which when consumed leads to the accumulation of fat in the body. Although studies indicate that many factors cause childhood obesity, this paper suggests that fast food companies contribute to the spread of the epidemic as they prepare, market and sell cheap, unhealthy food with a high fat and calorific content.
With the view to answer the research question, I made a literature search on the internet using the search terms “obesity in children” and “fast-food consumption in children” and a survey. I obtained results from press releases, blog posts, news articles, organization and government websites, and peer review papers. I went on to screen these information sources so that I can narrow down on those that linked obesity in children to fast food consumption. I settled on a total of five sources which I analyzed to answer the research question. The survey was available for two days, and I collected a total of eight responses from ten participants. Four participants were male (40%) and four were female (50%).
Three of the analyzed sources suggested that there was a link between fast food consumption and obesity in children. They reported a positive outcome for the role fast food companies play in causing childhood obesity. Some sources, however, showed that fast food companies did not cause overweight in youngsters. They blamed the individual for this development.
Hung-Hao Chang and Rodolfo Nayga Jr. conducted a study in Taiwan aimed at finding out the factors that motivate children to consume fast foods and soft drinks. They also investigated whether these foods made them obese and if they were unhappy because of it. The study revealed that children who live in the major cities in Taiwan consume more fast foods and soft drinks than their rural counterparts (Chang and Nayga 271). There are many fast food restaurants in the cities, and the ease in locating them promotes the consumption of fast foods which leads to the increase of obesity in children. The case is different in rural Taiwan where there are fewer fast food restaurants. This finding indicates the existence of a link between fast food restaurants and obesity in children.
Fast food companies knowingly sell processed foods that are high in fat and calories (Muntel 2). A simple McDonald’s meal consisting of a Big Mac, medium fries, and a large sweet tea has 1,200 calories. It is a high number of calories considering the recommended amount is between 1,500 and 1,800 per day. Eating such a meal twice a day or even supplementing with other meals at home sets the stage for obesity. Fast food companies also make use of unethical tactics to market their unhealthy foods to children. They incorporate things like cartoon characters in their commercials which appeal to the kids, and they end up identifying with the fast food. The advertising helps to increase cases of obesity in children because it achieves what it sets out to do through playing with the child’s psychology:
A child’s developing brain cannot tell the difference between fact and opinion and cannot yet think critically. It is no match for an industry that exploits this vulnerability by using cartoons, product placement in video games, cross-branding with popular toys, giveaways, and myriad other methods to develop brand loyalties and taste preferences as early as possible. (Kucinich).
Even as studies show that food companies may be responsible for obesity in children, some argue that the decision to consume fast foods lies with the individual or their parents since no one is forced to eat the same (Ellison and Larson). Parents should do a better job of limiting their children’s consumption of unhealthy food by setting a good example and always strive to provide them with healthier food options (Lumeng). Doing so in every household would result in the reduction of the number of obese children.
The results from the survey reported that fast food do influence in children’s obesity by giving a result of 85,7% of the participants out of 100% (see fig. 1), and in the close-end question “It is fast food responsible for not putting warning labels with the right number of calories?,” the response was a 100%.
Fig. 1. Health/Nutrition in Children
Of the eight participants that responded to the survey, a 100% reported that fast food companies are responsible of not having warning labels with the right number of calories per meal. Even though the total of participants has been in a fast food restaurant they are conscience that fast food influence in children’s obesity and influence in their adult choices as well. On the other hand, one of the reasons to visit a fast food restaurant it is because of the low cost, quick service and it is accessible.Fig. 1. Health/Nutrition in Children
The results obtained from this research and the survey seem to suggest that there is a link between child obesity and fast food companies. Majority of the sources showed that fast food companies cause obesity by marketing and selling their products. The study also shows that childhood obesity is a problem that is caused by a variety of factors. Fast food companies are not the only ones to be blamed. There are other factors at play including the willingness of the child to eat unhealthy meals. These results help to put the issue of obesity in children in perspective so that it is easy to find ways to tackle it.
A reduction in childhood obesity demands action from both the individual and the policy makers. Parents should take up the responsibility of educating their kids about the dangers of frequently consuming fast foods. Such companies, on the other hand, need monitoring and regulation to ensure that their actions are in line with the welfare of children. They should be advised to prepare healthier food options with a low-calorie count. The policy-makers should warn these companies against advertising unhealthy food to children. The primary target should be the parents who are better placed to make the right decisions based on their youngster’s overall health. The implementation of these suggestions would contribute to the reduction in the number of childhood obesity cases.
Chang, Hung-Hao, and Rodolfo Nayga. “Childhood Obesity and Unhappiness: The Influence of Soft Drinks and Fast Food Consumption.” Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 11, no. 3, 2010, pp. 261-275.
Ellison, Brenna and Debra L. Larson. “Who’s to Blame for Obesity? Policy Makers, the Food Industry, or Individuals?” ACES, 22 Jan. 2014, http://news.aces.illinois.edu/news/who%E2%80%99s-blame-obesity-policy-makers-food-industry-or-individuals. Accessed 26 Oct. 2020.
Kucinich, Dennis. “New Yale Study Highlights Role of Fast Food Marketing in Childhood Obesity Epidemic.” Vote Smart, 10 Nov. 2010, https://votesmart.org/public-statement/569297/new-yale-study-highlights-role-of-fast-food-marketing-in-childhood-obesity-epidemic#.WMwM4IF97IX. Accessed 26 Oct. 2020.
Lumeng, Julie. “What Can We Do to Prevent Childhood Obesity?” Zero to Three, Jan. 2005. https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/355-what-can-we-do-to-prevent-childhood-obesity. Accessed 26 Oct. 2020.
Muntel, Sarah. “Fast Food-Is It the Enemy?” Obesity Action Coalition, http://www.obesityaction.org/wp-content/uploads/Spring-2012-YWMM-Fast-Food.pdf. Accessed 16 March 2017.