Government Control on Public Food Choices
How much control should the government have on the public’s food choices in the United States?
The government should implement programs to reduce the prevalence of fast food in America.
Increase in Disease Related to Fast Foods
Blatant Disregard for Health From Major Food Companies
Unhealthiness of fast and junk foods
Resistance to change
Political Divisions Resulting How the Government Should Respond
Proponents: Defending and Implementing Government Intervention
Increasing rates of childhood obesity
Types of current types of government intervention and their successes
Low Income Demographics
a. Higher numbers of fast food restaurants in low income neighborhoods
Low income families have a harder time eating healthier due to costs
c. Current government interventions and successes
The Costs of Fast Foods
a. Obesity and heart disease are one of the primary negative results of fast food
b. These diseases are costing billions annually to our nation’s federal health resources.
c. Potential taxing of junk foods to help cover costs
IV. Opponents: Defending the Public’s Right to Choose
1. Personal Choice
2. State’s should handle local regulations
3. Changes Already going on in the Food Industry
The United States is facing a huge health epidemic that is costing billions of dollars annually. Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease have become lethal killers primarily because of the popularity and unchecked accountability of the fast food industry. Fast food companies are showing little regard to the nation’s health, especially in the cases of vulnerable demographics like children and low income communities. Thus, it is clear that despite any opposition the government does have to step in and implement both legislation and public programs aimed at reducing the prevalence of fast food within our society.
“Obesity poses a greater threat to our national security” (Nestle 2011, p 1). Along with other major health conditions, like heart disease and diabetes, the rise in obesity is almost whole heartedly explained by the rise in unhealthy junk foods within the typical diet of average Americans. Fast food companies often ignore the real needs of their consumers, mainly health and well being, opting rather for a greedy path of lucrative profits. The government should implement programs to reduce the prevalence of fast food in America.
One of the worst issues with the increase in fast food in our diets is the increase in related diseases within our society. Since the beginning of fast food dominance in the late 1940s, fast food industries have been increasing at an alarming rate. This has influenced several generations of Americans to eat less healthy foods, as more and more fast food alternatives became available to them. As the popularity of fast food increased, so did the risks associated with poor diets. Diabetes, obesity, and heart disease are now some of the biggest killers seen in contemporary society, next to tobacco and alcohol. The rise in obesity and its corresponding health conditions is directly linked to the increase of fatty and sugary foods within the typical American’s diet (Garcia et al., 2004). The more popular junk food gets, the more dangerous it becomes.
Yet, most of the food companies responsible for this are clearly ignoring the warning signs. Rapid and uncontrolled growth has resulted in a desire for money, not the well being of their customers. The research here shows that “Over the last three decades, fast food has infiltrated every nook and cranny of American society,” (Schlosser, 2004, p 3). In 2000 alone, Americans spent over $110 billion on fast, unhealthy foods (Schlosser. 2004). Unhealthiness in diets is then a direct result of this. Additionally, advertising techniques and strategies have played a large role in just how blatant these food companies are in terms of their persistence for profit. McDonald’s is now the world’s most recognizable brand image (Schlosser, 2004). There is a current trend of exploiting the most vulnerable populations within American society. High rates of junk food advertising are even found on educational television programs (Jacobson 2007). As of now, most of the more notorious companies have shown great resistance to change. Several major companies producing healthier alternatives, also own brand names of pure junk food which are marketed directly to children (Jacobson 2007). Efforts that have been made are clearly shallow, essentially not doing their part in trying to curb the national epidemic. Thus, there have been those outside such companies which have been advocating for external intervention by the government. Junk food politics has become a controversial subject, riddled with bi-partisan party biases. Thus, “Junk food and obesity are key indicators of political divisions in our society,” (Nestle, 201l, p 1). Yet, still many people are still advocating for some sort of intervention.
Proponents of government intervention often work for the betterment of vulnerable demographics, like children. Junk foods are everywhere children are, even in schools, where there is little observation or governance over what America’s children is eating. Thus, “Millions of kids are eating white bread instead of whole grain, drinking soda pop instead of water, and consuming far more calories, sodium, sugar, and saturated trans fat than they should,” (Jacobson 2). This is resulting in a situation where children are being more exposed to dangerous eating habits, essentially creating an environment where children today may be the first generation to have shorter life expectancies than their parents (Garcia et al., 2004). Obesity has increased at an incredibly rapid rate in the past few decades. As more and more of American’s children become more overweight, their futures become grimmer in terms of contracting conditions like diabetes or heart disease. Today, 13% of children ages 6 to 11 are obese, with an even higher rate for older children (Garcia et al., 2004).
Such numbers are alarming. Many of the nation’s schools actually make huge profits, hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, through encouraging unhealthy eating by allowing junk food and soda vending machines on school campuses. According to the American Alliance for Health (2002), one Dallas school district brought in over $350,000 in revenue from vending machines annually. Unethical advertising are also making the food companies a notorious part of the problem. Such companies have always targeted children, even in the earliest stages of the development of fast food restaurants (Schlosser, 2004). Children are being encouraged to eat unhealthy foods more so than they ever have in the past (Jacobson 2002). In the twentieth century, children were often seen as a developing demographic with immense consumer power. Many food companies have used this to their advantage, exploiting children as a lucrative demographic (Schor 2004). Fighting such advertising can be hard for governments, but necessary. The research shows that on average, local and state regulations on junk food often fail without the broader support of federal action and legislation (American Alliance for Health 2002). There is the example of Texas school districts being unable to fully enforce strict regulations the state placed on schools regarding the presence of junk foods on campuses (American Alliance for Health 2002). However, it has seen only very limited rates of success and needs federal assistance.
Government intervention so far has proven limited, but successful. There is a variety of programs funded by government organizations which aim to help educate and encourage children to live healthier. Local state and county governments have also taken some action by banning the sale of junk foods in schools. Cases of successful community orientated programs also show that government sponsorship can strengthen local efforts. One such program is Let’s Move, lead by First Lady Michelle Obama. The program is “dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation, ” (Let’s Move, 2011, p 1). It aims to reduce obesity rates by at least 5% within the nest twenty years within the context of a single generation, therefore presenting fast and effective change through improving healthy options to children and families. Let’s Move also advocates greater physical activity, and gives out the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) to children committing to more exercise a week. Such efforts have proven successful in disseminating information.
Low income communities are a vulnerable demographic. In such communities, there are on average more fast food establishments (Schlosser, 2004). The low costs of fast food then becomes a cheap food source for individuals with limited funds. Thus, fast food has long held a connotation as “food for the poor,” (Schlosser, 2004, p 315). Essentially, the costs are the primary factor driving business in such communities, which then impacts the surrounding community’s overall health. The research suggests that “junk food is cheap and obesity is more common among low-income populations,” (Nestle, 2011, p 1). This also means more people within such demographics are restricted to employment within fast food companies. In fact, McDonald’s is currently responsible for around 90% of the new jobs being made available within the United States (Schlosser, 2004). Poor working conditions and even greater exposure to fatty foods creates a worse situation for those within low income communities. Research shows that “The roughly 3.5 million fast food workers are by far the largest group of minimum wage earners in the United States. The only Americans who consistently earn a lower hourly wage are migrant farm workers,” (Schlosser, 2004, p 6). Food companies exploit low income communities both in terms of selling unhealthy foods to them, and through providing poor working conditions for the community in general. Currently, most efforts being taken against fast food’s influences have been within different environments. Yet, there are government sponsored programs, like Let’s Move, which have had success providing funding for such communities to help make healthier options more available.
Moreover, the sheer costs of fast foods are a major problem which deserves government attention. Obesity and heart disease are one of the primary negative results of fast food. These diseases are costing billions annually to our nation’s federal health resources. Research shows that $238 billion a year is spent on healthcare related to conditions of obesity (Schlosser, 2004). Thus, “The annual cost of obesity alone is not twice as large as the fast food industry’s total revenues,” (Schlosser, 2004, p 261). Possible solutions including looking to share those costs with the company who help influence them in the first place. California legislatures are currently trying to pass a tax on soda drinks, AB 669. This is “targeting the obesity epidemic with a tax that would slap a penny-an-ounce levy on drinks sweetened with sugar or corn syrup,” (Lazarus, 2011, p 1). Taxing junk food is one method of government intervention that could prove lucrative, similarly to the way cigarettes and alcohol are taxed. It is a way to help pay for the health epidemic the fast food is essentially causing in the United States. Also, to provide funds for programs targeting reducing obesity in children through promoting healthier eating and more active lifestyles.
Opposing View and Response
However, there are those who oppose government action. One oppositional view places importance on personal choice. Republicans have aligned themselves with the food companies in opposing government intervention (Nestle, 2011). Many are still “vigorously defending junk food, lamenting the passage of the food and safety bill, and decrying all efforts to address our obesity epidemic,” (Nestle, 2011, p 1). There are those who believe that the government “doesn’t have the right to protect us from ourselves,” (Lazarus, 2004, p 1). This becomes problematic when one looks at one of the most vulnerable demographics in question — children. Children are not considered adults, and legally are not seen as being capable to make their own choices. Thus, government action is needed within younger demographics, because the freedom of choice argument is essentially invalid. Currently, many major fast food companies have adopted healthier alternatives to put on their menus. However very limited, and looks like a shallow attempt to put a band aid on a mortal wound. Additionally, the same companies which claim to be providing alternatives are also increasing the level of their exploitive advertising.
It is clear that despite opposition, the government needs to help stand in and curb the growing problem. Obesity is only getting worse, and the action of the government can help save millions from suffering unnecessarily. As tensions continue to rise, only time will tell what the future has in store.
American Alliance for Health. (2002). Texas restricts junk food sales in schools. The Journal of Physical Education, 73(6), 18-19.
Garcia, Robert, Flores, Erica S., & Chang, Sophia Mei-ling. (2004). Thirteenth annual symposium on contemporary urban challenges: Urban equity. Fordham University School of Law. Fordham Urban Law Journal. (31), 1267.
Jacobson, Michael F. (2007). As the junk food world turns. Nutritional Action Healthletter. 34(5),2-3.
Nestle, Marion. (2011). Culture wars: How junk food and obesity became politicized. The Atlantic. Retrieved February 28, 2011 from http://www.theatlantic.com/food/archive/2010/12/culture-wars-how-junk-food-and-obesity-became-politicized/67841/
Lazarus, David. (2011). Tax junk food: Fight obesity one penny at a time. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 2, 2011 from http://articles.latimes.com/2011/feb/25/business/la-fi-lazarus-20110225
Let’s Move. (2011). Programs and resources. About Let’s Move. Retrieved February 28, 2011 from http://www.letsmove.gov/programsresources.php
Schlosser, Eric. (2001). The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Schor, Juliet. (2004). Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture. Simon and Schuster.
Violand, Adam. (2008). 10 things the food industry doesn’t want you to know. U.S. News.
Retrieved February 28, 2011 from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/difitness/diet/articles/2008/10/17/10-things-the-food-industry-doesnt-want-you-to-know
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