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Kerry Trueman Headshot

Martyring Our Kids on the McAltar

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Branding was once a way for cattle ranchers to establish ownership of their livestock by burning their initials onto the flanks of cows with a red-hot iron. Now, it's the way corporations sear their logos onto our childrens' brains to establish a lifetime of "brand loyalty." And like the cows, our kids are being led to the slaughter.

Companies have spent billions of dollars figuring out how to manipulate us, and they've concluded that the best way to corral consumers and herd them to the cash registers is to rope 'em in while they're young. So they spend billions more -- "at least $10 billion annually," as NYU nutrition professor Marion Nestle told The Nation -- to get kids hooked on all kinds of sugary, salty, fatty, processed crap.

$10 billion dollars buys a lot of advertising--and millions of loyal lil' consumers. It's criminal the way corporations target our kids. Or it ought to be, anyway. But we've got a big fat blind spot when it comes to addressing the roots of the childhood obesity epidemic that, if left unchecked, could cause today's kids to die younger than their parents.

Some of us are so deep in denial that we don't even see the obesity; as the Washington Post reported last week, researchers at the University of Michigan who surveyed 2,000 parents found that "40 percent of youths ages 6 to 11 whose parents described them as "about the right weight" were actually obese," and "fewer than 10 percent of parents whose children were obese said they were "very concerned" about their child's weight."

But while some schools contemplate sending kids home with a BMI (body mass index) report card, one school district in Florida issued report cards embellished with Happy Meal coupons that could be redeemed by students who earned "A's" and "B's". "Reward yourself with a Happy Meal!" was emblazoned on the report cards' envelopes, along with a picture of Ronald McDonald.

The Seminole County Public Schools superintendent cited insufficient funds as the reason the district opted to essentially sell advertising space on the cards' jackets; in return, McDonald's picked up the $1600 tab for the printing costs. Give the school district an "F" for this Faustian fast-food bargain.When one appalled parent complained, she "was told that she was the only parent who thought it was inappropriate to put fast-food ads on the report card jackets," according to the Chicago Tribune, which aptly summed up what's so wrong with this picture:

It's one thing if a parent decides to reward a child for good grades with a trip to McDonald's. This is America, after all. It's quite another for a company to attach its brand to an emotionally charged item like a report card and to equate happiness and approval with fast food.

For the latest news on how communities are fighting childhood obesity, visit The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's News Digest.

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