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Childhood Obesity and Government Regulation

May 5, 2010

Pretzels Cold Drinks Pizza

The editors of Scientific American have compiled an interesting article about childhood obesity, which appears in the May issue. The stark reality is that one out of every three kids in America is overweight, and many people believe the government must do something about it. Those of us whose memories of our school days include jumping around to Meredith Willson’s “Chicken Fat” might wonder what happened. Well, two-thirds of us somehow managed to grow up overweight anyway, and thus we have set a lousy example for the succeeding generations.

Every American, in every age group, is besieged by a constant barrage of images of sugary, salty, fatty food, via TV commercials, billboards, print publications, and every other imaginable way of showing us pictures of things we really ought to avoid. Speaking of television, new research shows that it’s not so much the couch-potato aspect of watching TV that contributes to becoming overweight — although it certainly doesn’t help — but being subjected to the unremitting stream of food commercials.

Commercial television sells kids the idea of eating, eating, eating — every minute of the day — and we’re not talking about carrot sticks. Plus, junk food is marketed with all the trimmings of cartoon characters, bright colors, shiny wrappers, and toys. There is a strong belief that,

Protecting children from junk-food marketing would help create conditions conducive to achieving a healthy weight.

Several government agencies have banded together to come up with some recommendations that they will pass on to Congress this summer, and already it looks like a battle is shaping up between the “voluntary” and the “government-enforced” camps.


A couple of days ago, the Seattle Times published an interview with Dr. Pretlow, in which one of the points he makes could be succinctly phrased as, “Enough information, already!” Kids are bored with being told that apples are good and doughnuts are bad. A lot of them can even score an “A” on a test about healthy choices. Many kids, as proven on Dr. Pretlow’s Weigh2Rock website, where kids anonymously spill their guts (excuse the pun), are even self-aware enough to know that they use food for non-nutritional purposes. What they need are tools to resist the constant temptation of the ever-available junk food and fast food.

The interviewer is Mark Rahner, a staff reporter for the venerable Seattle newspaper, whose work has also appeared in Wired and many other pop-culture publications. He and Dr. Pretlow throw around ideas about home schooling, discuss the influence exerted by both overweight parents and normal-weight parents, and weigh on the concept of “food porn.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Underage, Overweight: The Federal Government Needs to Halt the Marketing of Unhealthy Foods to Kids,” Scientific American, 05/10
Source: “Q&A with author of ‘Overweight: What Kids Say,'” Seattle Times, 05/02/10
Image by benimoto, used under its Creative Commons license.

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