Throughout the past ten years, childhood obesity rates have skyrocketed in the United States. Many experts and studies claim that parents are the ones to blame for their children’s unhealthy eating habits. However, today kids live in a world where marketing innovations have made eating fast food the norm, so how much influence do parents really have on their children? In my view, America’s childhood obesity epidemic is a direct result of fast-food marketing techniques that expand advertisements throughout schools, promote junk food on television, and increase portion sizes in restaurants.
Schools are powerful marketing sites of fast food, seeing as they provide students the option of eating from outlets such as McDonald’s and Pizza Hut on a daily basis. Writer, David Barboza claims how numerous schools have special agreements with fast-food chains to sell their products. For example, he mentions how, “Vending machines now dominate school corridors. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have pouring rights contracts in hundreds of schools nationwide,” (2). By offering sugary beverages and other snacks all over campuses, schools are advocating unhealthy eating habits that in turn lead to obesity. When educators make fast food available at their schools, they are increasing funding yet they are providing students with meals that contain hundreds of calories.
Although many schools do not have contracts with fast food companies, they still make junk food accessible by having special days dedicated to fast food. For example, writer Barboza describes how a school in Garden City, Kansas has “Pizza Hut Days,” (2). Ultimately, by virtue of scheduling days where fast food is often the only lunch option, schools are forcing students to decide between preparing their own meals or simply consuming the junk food that they offer. Since many students are not able to prepare their own meals, they end up consuming an incredible amount of calories from the fast food offered at the school that eventually leads to obesity. All over the United States, schools advertise fast food in order to make profits and do not pay attention to how they are influencing childhood obesity rates.
Apart from schools, television is one of the most influential marketing mediums for the selling of fast food to children because advertisements are constantly impacting kids via children’s networks such as Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. Barboza claims that fast food advertisements using program characters as pitchmen are taking over television channels. For instance, he describes how “SpongeBob SquarePants has his own show, but also sells Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Popsicles, Kleenex, etc,” (2). Barboza then discusses how Nicky Greenberg who is six years old knows the SpongeBob SquarePants song and eats Kellog’s Cinnamon Toast Crunch because she loves the commercials that feature SpongeBob (2-3).
Through the use of a Nickelodeon characters such as SpongeBob, television is influencing young kids to develop unhealthy eating habits that can lend to obesity or Type 2 Diabetes. Fast food companies take advantage of these well-known television characters and use them as pitchmen to increase their profits, without caring that by promoting their high calorie foods they are in turn expanding waistlines. All in all persuasive fast-food advertisements on television are making kids believe a lie: that the consumption of junk food does not lead to obesity.
Another significant advertising technique that contributes to childhood obesity is the increase of portion sizes. Writer David Zinczenko describes how fast food companies add on various ingredients and sugary beverages that make even a healthy meal unhealthy. For example, he describes a chicken salad that initially contains 150 calories, but turns out to be more than 1,040 calories with the additional almonds, noodles, dressing, and Coke (10). Not only are portions increased in fast food restaurants by adding more ingredients to the meal, but also by super-sizing foods.
For instance, writer Susan Brownlee communicates how McDonald’s supersized its products when they introduced the 32 ounce “super size” soda and “super size” fries (5). Whether fast-food restaurants add more items to the overall meal or make food bigger, kids essentially end up consuming unnecessary calories and this gives rise to obesity at an early age. As soon as fast food restaurants change their portion sizes, childhood obesity rates will begin to decrease because kids will consume fewer calories. Although an increased portion sizes bring in high profits now, this process will deteriorate when consumers see how the extra calories are affecting their lives.
Overall dozens of fast-food marketing techniques are at fault for the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States. Yet the most influential of these techniques are the advertisements in schools and on television, as well as the increase of servings at chain restaurants. Critics might say, that parents must take the personal responsibility to prohibit children from watching certain channels or going to certain places. However, what happens when children are at their friend’s house where there are no restrictions on T.V., or out and about with their friends at the mall’s food court, who protects them then? One way to resolve increasing childhood obesity rates due to persuasive fast food promotions is to inform kids how to prepare healthier meals. Unless people take action against fast food marketing, childhood obesity will remain a problem across the United States.