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Christina Pirello

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How Can We Expect Our Kids to Make Healthy Choices?

Posted: 05/27/10 01:07 PM ET

It's unrelenting and insidious. The marketing of junk food to our kids has reached a level that is so far beyond reason it's hard to wrap your mind around it.

From Shrek characters on collector's drinking glasses (get all four!) from McDonald's to Toy Story 3-- teaming up with Kellogg's with kids racking up points in the "Great Stuff" catalog by buying more and more cereal -- our kids don't stand a chance.

The Happy Meal serves up more to your kids than cheap toys. With an ingredient panel that reads like the War and Peace of chemistry, that Shrek collector's glass or wind-up toy comes at a very high price.

For more than 30 years, McDonald's has sold our health right down the river of oil they fry our kids' food in. With as many as 700 calories in a single smiley container, McDonald's lures kids in with dancing clowns and characters from their favorite films, television shows and video games. And they seduce Mom with advertising that implies that buying your kid a Happy Meal makes you a better parent, when nothing could be further from the truth. Their "Mommyism" campaign -- designed to capitalize on parents' guilt about limited time with their kids -- was some of the most manipulative marketing ever employed. I know we live in a system of free enterprise, but their tactics border on criminal.

Since the Happy Meal hit the menu under the Golden Arches, childhood obesity has ballooned from 4.2% to 17%, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This hugely successful public relations brainstorm, linking cheap food with cheap toys (which actually dates as far back as free junk toys in Cracker Jacks and cereal boxes and on top of Ovaltine jars) led corporation after corporation to see the opportunity to make money off your kids' desires. Before long, all that disposable plastic junk found its way into almost every bag of high-fat, high-sugar meal while hawking the movies your kids are dying to see.

And yes, I get it. I get the Pavlovian promise of free toys with lunch. It's a sickness that plagues us all through our lives in this modern world. Our kids grow up from Happy Meals and graduate to live a life in the "Buy One, Get One Free" mentality that has created profits for the very corporations that are stealing your health. The predatory strategies employed by McDonald's and other monolithic food giants, from General Mills to Kellogg's to Kraft and Burger King have our kids right in their greedy line of sight.

But are the Colonel, Wendy, Papa John, The King and our favorite, McDonald's the only ones to blame here? With so many distractions taking us away from the dinner table, we have lost sight of the importance of feeding our kids healthy food. With an epidemic of childhood obesity threatening to swallow an entire generation, with one out of every three children overweight, there is more to this problem than the dancing clowns, shiny toys and commercials.

You know the old saying: If it's not one thing, it's your mother. And while we all laugh when we hear it, in this case it may be true. I can almost hear all the screaming already. All the indignant cries about how busy we are; how many appointments our kids have; how hard we all work; how tired we all are; now hard life is now. Spare me! The only reason that fast food palaces can prey on your kids is because you let them. At a time when we just watch cooking on television, how many of us are actually making dinner every night and gathering our families around us to enjoy the fruits of our labors?

And before you try to sell me the idea that your kids won't eat what you cook or that you get home from work too late to make dinner or you can't afford healthy food, save it for someone who doesn't know better. We are all busy; we are all struggling to stretch our dollars in this economic climate, but there is little or no excuse to sit idly by and watch your child lose their health to obesity just because it's easier and cheaper to feed them dinner in a bucket.

With no demographic untouched, from African-Americans to Latinos to seniors to privileged white people, McDonald's has successfully ripped dinner off the table and stuffed it in a greasy paper bag. And our health has never been worse.

Obesity has become one of the most expensive health problems in America today, with a price tag of $147 billion in health care costs. Obesity accounts for the loss of more than 39 million workdays and 63 million doctor visits each year. And our number one health issue feeds the greedy machine of diet products to the tune of more than $60 billion a year in products, services, plans and foodlike substances.

As parents, we have surrendered our kids' future to fatten the wallets of corporations like McDonald's. Instead of shrugging it off as 'the way it is' or giving in because the kids want what they have been brainwashed to want and you are just too tired to fight, we should be marching on all these companies and demanding better.

It's time to wake up and smell the toast, people. If we continue to hand the health of our children over to big corporations who have no interest but profit on their minds, then we will have no right to be shocked and dismayed at the declining health of our youth. It's time to stand up for our kids and feed them ourselves. Relying on greasy paper bags, buckets and boxes with smiling faces filled with food that is unfit for human consumption, we surrender our children's future to the highest bidder (or manufacturer of colorful, cheap plastic toys).

As parents, we need to harness our kids' destiny and cook dinner from scratch. Oh, they may resist fresh veggies at first. But remember their little taste buds are in overdrive all the time and when you are cooking fresh food, you are competing with the chemical genius that makes chips that taste like bacon. It's hard to keep up with the competition, but at the end of the day, they are our kids and we carry the responsibility to create robust health so that they can enjoy a healthy, vital future. I'm just sayin.'

 
 
 

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