Junk Food and its Effect on Children
Junk food, mostly coming from fast food locations, is unfortunately a very popular choice for a quick, easy meal that many take advantage off. However, the effects that junk food can have on children during their adolescence, as well as throughout their adulthood, is something that is more recently coming into the light. The health effects of this “”food”” is not the only issue however. Big marketing companies are now, more than ever, making their advertisements more child friendly, in order to get children hooked on this unhealthy food for life. This marketing, which takes advantage of the adolescent minds of children, has created an obesity epidemic.
The main issue with the increased consumption of junk food, is the insurmountable health risks. According to the past senator of Iowa and author, Tom Harkin, in his article titled “”Mobilizing to Defeat the Childhood Obesity Epidemic””, the United States has a severe obesity epidemic, with “”nearly 15 percent of American children and teenagers are obese””( Harkin 216). This is high percentage of children that are obese, is sadly becoming more of an issue as time goes on. On top of this, “”… a quarter of children between the ages of five and ten already show early warning signs of heart disease.””(Harkin 216). With this in mind, the debate of whose fault it is that these children are suffering so much, at such a young age has to happen eventually.
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This hits close to home for me, because my siblings that still live with my mother are constantly fed unhealthy garbage, and they can’t do anything about it. They have no say in what they eat because they are just kids and can’t provide for themselves. When they went in for their yearly check-up, their PCP said that they are way overweight for their age and height and need to have a complete diet change, or their current lifestyle will affect them well into adulthood. However, their mother completely ignored the doctor, and took them to McDonalds after the appointment. This is much like the millions of children who are being especially miss-treated by their parents by being fed junk food that is slowly killing them.
Due to the increased severity of childhood obesity, some states have created laws banning the sale of junk food, unless under special circumstances. In an academic journal entitled “”Examining Compliance with a Statewide Law Banning Junk Food and Beverage Marketing In Maine Schools””, by Michele Polacsek, she discusses the affects that this ban has had, as well as its goals during its conception. According to a study done across 20 high schools in Maine, only “”45% of schools…changes to school food and beverage marketing had been made…””(Polacsek 220).
So, after a statewide ban on junk food, less than half of the schools participated in what was supposed to be a mandatory ban. This leads back to it being the parent’s responsibility for what their children eat, even in high school. In my old high school, we had vending machines that had the “”healthier”” versions of food, but the soda vending machines wouldn’t open until after school. I think that this is also another goof option, but this requires some form of school participation. Without school participation, the bans become just worthless pieces of paper.
Another issue with the junk food market as a whole, is how the large corporations target children specifically. “”Food and Beverage Brands That Market to Children and Adolescents on the internet: A content Analysis of Branded Web Sites””, written by Anne E. Henry and Mary Story, goes into depth how children are preyed upon by the junk food industry. According to the authors, Kaiser Family Foundation found in a study that “”13 million children between the ages of 2 and 11 use the internet…”” and that “”…youth under the age of 18 makes up 20% of internet users””(Henry and Story 353).
This study shows the massive online population that these companies are marketing to. Most of these children are very young, so they are easily manipulated. When they see these commercials or ads online, they want these foods, without fully comprehending the long term affects they have. Also, many of these websites have components that will draw the attention of young children. For example, of the 130 websites sampled in the study, “”…92% of the websites featured interactive components”” (Henry and Story 355).
Also, it was discovered that a majority of the websites had the brand logo, clubs for children to join, or collectable items. These are the methods they use to essentially lure in children into becoming lifelong customers. Although I now fall out of the demographics discussed here, I myself have witnessed these websites and advertising methods. I spend quite a lot of time on the internet, and commercials and advertisements for children are everywhere. It is getting so obnoxious, I wonder how it isn’t illegal to push an agenda like this on children.
According to Lynn Parker, Steven Olson, et al, the authors of “”Challenges and Opportunities for Change in Food Marketing to Children and Youth : Workshop Summary Marketing””, gradual changes in marketing throughout the late 1900’s, as well as changes in consumer needs, are a large factor to the modern day scheme of marketing. In the 1950’s and 1960’s the emphasis on marketing was just to sell as many as possible with general marketing. In the 1970’s to 1980’s that changed to trying to meet as many consumer needs as possible, and then that morphed into the present day scheme, which is to build relationships with customers on a semi-personal level to sell products.
To get another perspective on this, I asked one of the only people I know who was alive to witness these transitions of marketing strategy within the United States: my grandfather. He explained that back when he was a child, companies and the limited advertisements they would have, which were usually posters, would not necessarily be marketed to specific age groups, unless of course, the product was only used by a specific age group.
Things like sweets, clothing, etc. were marketed to be more appealing to the parents, to entice them to spend their money on those things for their children. This slowly morphed into creating characters and commercials that children would get attached to and associate with, which would have the children convince the children buy the products. This is genius, because it not only makes the children convince the parents to spend money, but indoctrinates the child into the junk food market.
The targeting of children, and which consequently leads to the obesity of said children, isn’t just the problem of the parents and children involved. According to Melvin Delgado, in the book “”Social Justice and the Urban Obesity Crisis: Implications for Social Work””, obesity of children is an issue that will and does affect all of society, and not just the select few involved. The obesity epidemic caused by the indoctrination of children into the junk food market cause hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. According to Delgado “”…300,000 deaths a year are caused by obesity””(Delgado 43) and that “”…we may be underestimating the true physical and economic costs…””(Delgado 43).
This is because the cost to treat these people doesn’t just end at the broad diagnosis of “”diabetes””. The obesity epidemic leads to an outbreak of over 30 diseases, such as heart disease, forms of cancer, gallstones, mellitus, etc.( Delgado 43). These 300,000 that die each year are mostly adults that die of the developing diseases, but the obesity probably started in their childhood, due to their parents bad eating habits being passed down to them, like some sort of sick family heirloom. Years ago, after my grandma had made a very large meal for my siblings and me, she told me a story of her childhood.
She said she remembers her mom making around 30 burgers, for the 10 of them, which is obviously an excessive amount of food for 10 people. This story made me realize why she always inadvertently made Thanksgiving-esque meals, even if it was only a few people eating. Her mother, when teaching my grandmother to cook, had instilled in her that was just how to cook. This could directly cause overeating, and later obesity. Of course, this is purely anecdotal to my family, but the sentiment still stands.
Junk food has become a modern day staple in our society, and it has and will continue to negatively impact the youth, and society as a whole as long as we allow it too. The upbringing of children in the presence of moderate junk food eating habits is okay, but at the current trend of consumption, the issues will only get worse. The current “”attempts”” to remedy the growing societal issue of childhood obesity are failing miserably, because no one is on the same page, or just blatantly ignores the laws resulted from referendums in our government, like the schools in Maine who continued to sell banned junked food. These are all issues that we need to take seriously be.
Also, the companies responsible for marketing need to be restricted to marketing only to adults, which would reduce the severity of these issues. Unfortunately, this probably won’t happen, due to the billions of dollars spent on marketing everywhere, with a large percent of that being spent directed at children. However, the children can’t make these decisions themselves, so it is up to us to stand up for them and for their futures, but only time will tell.
- Polacsek, Michele, et al. Examining Compliance With a Statewide Law Banning Junk Food and Beverage Marketing In Maine Schools. Sage Publications, Inc. 2012
- Harkin, Tom. Mobilizing to Defeat the Childhood Obesity Epidemic. Sage Publications, Inc. 2008
- Henry, Anna E. et al. Food and Beverage Brands That Market to Children and Adolescents on the Internet: A Content Analysis of Branded Web Sites. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2009
- Delgado, Melvin. Social Justice and the Urban Obesity Crisis: Implications for Social Work. Columbia University Press, 2013.
- Olsen, Steven, et al. Challenges and Opportunities for Change in Food Marketing to Children and Youth. Workshop Summary. National Academies Press, 2013.