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The Factors Contributing to Child Obesity in The United States

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One study shows one-third of U.S children and teens eat fast food every day. Children see on average, 3.5 TV ads per day for fast food, and teens see about 4.7. That is not counting the ads on social media platforms, radio shows, billboards or magazines they may come across. Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last 3 decades. Aggressive marketing campaigns contribute to childhood obesity because they target children specifically. An Annual Review article states ‘in the next 25 years childhood obesity is expected to rise by 36.5% in the United States, 75.5% in China, and 134% in India”. On average food companies spend 2 billion dollars per year advertising to children. However, there is a science behind fast food marketing. One study from the University of Michigan claims when adolescents view a fast food ad it sets off the reward system in the brain. It’s not necessarily about needing the calorie intake but more of getting the reward of the food. This makes it hard to pinpoint exactly why we want fast food of high calorie food after viewing an ad because it is a subconscious process. Advertisers will target younger and younger crowds to establish a brand name preference.

Let’s talk refined food. Refined foods are foods that have been overly processed and stripped of their original nutrient content. Why is this so important to understand? It plays a big role in how these foods are marketed to adolescents and children. When a child has a McDonald’s burger for the first time, they are only getting refined, processed food and nothing of nutritional value as a result there is a gradual release of sugar in the blood stream. This is important to know because sugar is a highly addictive substance. Some research shows that sugar can be more addictive than cocaine. “Sugar activates the opiate receptors in our brain and affects the reward center, which leads to compulsive behavior, despite the negative consequences like weight gain, headaches, hormone imbalances, and more.” This might help us understand a little better why when children see an ad, they are so cline to want that item because subconsciously they crave it, they know it will give them some sort of pleasure. This is a very vicious and dangerous cycle.

It’s incredible how far TV ads will go just to make their food look more appealing and beautiful. In some cases, fast food marketing ads will use motor oil, shaving cream, beauty sponges, and even tampons to make their foods look more appealing. Sounds off the wall when reading that, right? They use motor oil to make the pancakes look fresh instead of using regular syrup which makes them look dull and soggy. What child isn’t going to look at that well put together trap and beg their parents to go to Denny’s or IHOP? They use shaving cream for a whipped topping in some commercials to make pie or an ice cream sundae look more temping.

Several countries forbid advertising to children unlike the U.S it’s a free for all. Studies show that children younger than 8 years are cognitively and psychologically defenseless against advertising. When a child see’s a celebrity or athlete promote food or a sports drink on a YouTube or TV ad, they are more likely to want to try or purchase that item. Children and teens look up to these celebrities and athletes, they admire these people for the personality they portray and for the way they look, we can’t expect children to stop seeing that when they are selling a Carl’s Jr. Burger or a Gatorade that has 34 grams of sugar in it. Justin Timberlake reportedly made an estimated 6million dollars for his involvement in a McDonald’s commercial, Beyoncé has made upwards of 50 million dollars for a Pepsi campaign she did in 2012, and that’s not all 65 music celebrities have endorsement deal with fast food companies or soft drink companies These celebs are impacting our youths eating habits whether they know it or not, to them it is just a brand deal but to our children it is their health at steak.

While doing research for this paper I came across a Yoplait ad on Youtube and it starts out as a little girl reaching into the fridge to grab a Go-Gurt and putting it into her lunch box stating that she is an independent young girl because she is packing her own lunch. That’s how they market to these children, it is aggressive. What child doesn’t want to be independent? Go-Gurt isn’t the worst thing they can be advertising but it’s still not the healthiest and it really goes to show these companies will do and say anything to reach young children. The point of these advertisements is to keep children wanting and wondering, it all comes down to the dollar and how these companies can make more at the cost of our children’s health.

Yes, it is true that genetics play an enormous roll in child obesity. One study suggests that genetics contribute to 40-70% of obesity. While that may be true, we still must wonder how much father that number would decrease if children saw less fast food and beverage ads per day. Another contributing factor could be that our kids typically eat what we eat. When we eat processed food or fast food every night that is usually what our kids eat too. Whether it be a lack of money, motivation to cook or plain laziness I can see how that could affect children being obese. Also, children are just that, children. They do not have much say in what they eat or even what they watch. Parents should be monitoring their television and social media time, because whether we like to admit it or not children are still being subjected to heavy, aggressive marketing campaigns from fast food and beverage companies. Bottom line is we have to do better for our children. Obesity can lead to a number of long term, irreversible chronic or acute diseases such as diabetes, fatty liver, gallbladder disease, hypertension and in worse cases even cancer. With young women and men being obese could come with having unhealthy eating mechanisms to cope with being obese. One article states that along with obesity unhealthy weight control behaviors can arise such as fasting, skipping meals, eating very little food, vomiting and using diet pills to compensate for the weight gain which can be extremely dangerous. While we cannot change genetics, we can change what are children are subjected to in our households.

The change starts with us. We can encourage our kids to be more physically active in sports and after school activities. Teach your kids how to cook young and make it fun. Teach them how to incorporate veggies and fruit into their diet every day. Until they are old enough, provide them with healthy snack choices. Monitor their computer, TV and social media time, especially if they are under the age of 8. Lastly lead by example for your children and encourage them to drink more water. Avoid using food as reward or taking food away as a punishment. Government food programs also need to make healthier food available to those with low come households. This is a cycle we as a society have to break. Especially with type 2 diabetes on the rise. Diabetes is one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S as well as heart disease, cancer and stroke and while these can be hereditary, they are 100% preventable.

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