Healthy Eating Campaigns Stink, Do Nothing To Prevent Childhood Obesity

The federal government is spending over $1 billion on nutrition education this year, and it’s probably a waste of money, according to the AP.

“Any person looking at the published literature about these programs would have to conclude that they are generally not working,” said Dr. Tom Baranowski, a pediatrics professor at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine who studies behavioral nutrition.

The results have been disappointing, to say the least:

• Last year, a federal pilot program offering free fruits and vegetables to schoolchildren showed fifth-graders became less willing to eat them than they had been at the start. Apparently, they didn’t like the taste.

• In Pennsylvania, researchers gave prizes to schoolchildren who ate fruits and vegetables. That worked. But when the researchers came back seven months later, the kids had reverted to their original eating habits: soda and chips.

• In studies where children tell researchers they are eating better or exercising more, there is usually no change in blood pressure, body size or cholesterol measures. They want to eat better and might even think they are, but they’re not.

Childhood obesity has quadrupled among children 6-11 since the 1970’s. Why? There’s a lot of debate. The only thing everyone agrees on is that the parents are the most important part of the equation. Ultimately, its up to them what their children eat. Whatever happened to “eat your lima beans?” (Full Disclosure: We love lima beans.)

It’s too bad parents have so much to fight against. Unhealthy food is cheaper than fruits and veggies. Unhealthy food is marketed to children, healthy food is not. Heck, unhealthy food tastes better than a lot of healthy food, particularly if you don’t know how to cook.

Let’s hear from parents in the comments. How are you coping? What are you feeding your kids?

Big-money battle on child obesity shows little success [Freep via Freakonomics]
(Photo:Clearly Ambiguous)


Edit Your Comment

  1. bonzombiekitty says:

    Maybe instead of just spending the money on healthy eating education/advertisement, they should be trying things like spending money on healthier and tastier school lunches.

  2. lincolnparadox says:

    Nobody is going to fix this. Childhood obesity isn’t the problem. The problem is obesity in the industrialized world. In America, we eat processed meals that we just have to warm up (at best) or we eat out. Most of us consume at least 500-1000 calories more than we should each day. We don’t exercise, or if we do it’s scheduled exercise (hit the gym for an hour 5 times a week) and not part of our daily routine.

    What’s the difference between now and then? The majority of us have jobs that are not physically demanding. The majority of us do not have to walk in order to get to work. The majority of us do not cook our own food from raw materials (fresh meat, fresh veggies, etc). The majority of us consume too many calories. You want kids to lose weight, cut down their caloric intake and make them walk everywhere. You want adults to lose weight? Take away their car keys and have them stick to a 2000-calorie per day diet.

  3. skittlbrau says:

    Eating less (and healthier) is only half of the equation. Eating better and exercising more is the only real way to lose weight.

    As a kid I played softball and was on the swimming and track teams. What are these kids doing?

  4. Ben-M says:


  5. TechnoDestructo says:


    Building vast tracts of housing miles away from any employment or shopping doesn’t help that.

    I blame zoning boards for obesity. I’m not kidding.

  6. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    I blame the internet.

  7. dbeahn says:

    Oh, I LOVE watching these cartoon. Usually we have twinkies and cokes while we watch…

  8. dbeahn says:

    @lincolnparadox: Let’s not forget that millions of years of evolution have bred the majority of humans to be very efficient at converting every single excess calorie into fat to be saved in case of famine.

  9. letoofdune says:

    I’m excited – I just moved to Washignton, DC from Texas. Now, let’s get this straight – I love Texas. I was born in Texas, raised in Texas, and went back to Texas to teach after my undergrad work. I love parts of Texas.

    But the reason I’m excited about DC? I get to walk again. I lived in London and Berlin for about 5 months each while I was in college, and even in college, I loved walking. Walking to go somewhere. I hate walking to walk – that makes no sense to me. But walking to go see a movie? Or listen to music? Or see a museum? Or chill in the park? Hell yeah!

    So, while I’m a little overweight (read: somewhat overweight), I’m looking forward to my new walking pathes and routes.

    It also helps that I’ve left my truck back in Texas, so i can only purchase an amount of groceries that I’m comfortable carrying home. Somehow, the slab of brisket looks less appealing when you have to lug it uphill. Both ways. In the dead of winter. With wolves.

  10. superlayne says:

    @bonzombiekitty: That would be a brilliant solution.

    Seriously, has anyone seen a school lunch recently? Its the cheapest, most disgusting food on the planet designed to make kids want to eat it, but failing miserably. Kids don’t eat school lunch, so the school boards decide to make kid-friendly meals like pizza and hamburgers. Everyday. What they do, though, is use it with really cheap, fatty meat bulked up with bread crumbs, and put it on the cheapest, easiest to make buns. Everything is processed, and the ‘salads’ are glorified burger toppings.

    Good God, it will be a wonderful day when school cafeterias can have little, “All Organic” stickers on the spit shields.

  11. quagmire0 says:

    It’s the parents, plain and simple. These are the two most common excuses:

    1. It’s too expensive to eat healthy.

    2. It takes too much time to cook something.

    My responses:

    1. Gee, maybe if you hadn’t purchased the house, car, electronics, iPhone, computers, etc. that you CAN’T AFFORD, you may have some spare money to actually buy food that is good for you.

    2. This is the biggest excuse of them all. You have the time, you just choose not to make it. Think about all that time you sit in front of the TV every day. I’m no gourmet chef, but I can follow a recipe – and over time I’ve learned how to eyeball stuff and I have these recipes down so it takes me less and less time to prepare these foods.

    It all comes down to time and money and you have alot more of both when you really sit down and be critical about how you spend either.

  12. spanky says:

    Take the government obesity statistics with a grain of salt. Some of these studies (including the one about the health care costs of obesity) have been pretty roundly discredited. And any mention of obesity statistics over time is suspect. Some of the increase in overweight and obese Americans is attributable to the fact that they changed the cutoffs points in the mid-late 90s. Note that these studies are often run by people with a vested interest. The health costs guy, IIRC, worked for Weight Watchers, and followed up that study with a government-funded study about the effectiveness of Weight Watchers.

    That said, the numbers might be inflated, but there are legitimate problems. Corn subsidies, corporate sponsorship in the schools (my kid’s elementary school had Taco Bell and Pizza Hut as options for school lunch), etc. We’re also living in a culture of fear. Kids don’t go outside anymore. They’re not allowed to. The media plays up the notion that the streets are teeming with pedophiles and other threats, so kids aren’t free to mess around and explore anymore. They’re stuck in the house all day.

    There’s also some strange pervasive idea that children won’t tolerate eating anything except hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and macaroni and cheese. I don’t know how or why that came about, but it was sometime between when I was a kid and when I had a kid. It’s just stupid, it’s just wrong, and the sad fact is that it does not go away with adulthood. I know grownups who still eat like that.

    There are plenty of reasons kids are getting fatter now (albeit at a slower rate than is generally reported). Lack of PSAs isn’t one of them, though.

  13. MentalDisconnect says:

    I think too much emphasis is put on food when it should be put on exercise. I think a lot of people freeze up when they hear “exercise”. It’s not pleasant. We’ve been conditioned to think that to exercise you must “feel the burn”, and that it requires a gym, or some extreme amount of commitment. I believe in something called “casual exercise”. I exercise on the job by being on my feet for 8 hours and moving heavy boxes around. I exercise outside of work by walking to the store (if I can- if not, I’ll park in a central location and walk to all the stores I need). I enjoy climbing stuff, so when I have extra time I’ll go climb trees or rocks. I have a fast metabolism, and yes, part of that is genetic, but I think walking and jogging (when I’m feeling particularly exuberant) keeps my metabolism high. That’s why Europeans seem slimmer despite a pretty rich diet. I don’t count my calories. I don’t count my fat intake or anything. I eat balanced, but I can get away with indulging. Yes, I’m still young. But I am a strong believer in mild exercise all throughout the day.

    I’ve noticed the most obese kids have obese parents. If the parents aren’t getting out, how will the kids ever?

  14. CreativeLinks says:


    • Child gets up and eats breakfast cooked by mom.
    • Rides bike or walks to school
    • At school eats Lunch provided by Mom
    • Takes Gym
    • Rides or Walks home
    • Goes outside and plays
    • Goes home for dinner cooked by Mom
    • Does homework
    • Watches 1-2 hours of TV


    • Child wakes and usually eats sugar cereal
    • Takes a bus or gets ride to School
    • Eats lunch provided by Cafeteria
    • Gym once a week if that
    • Rides home after school
    • Uses Computer or plays Video Games
    • Does homework
    • Eats take-out food 3 to 4 times a week (avg)
    • Watches TV 3 to 4 hours

    Gosh, what could be the problem?

  15. Mark 2000 says:

    I’m a little worried as the father of a 1 year old. We all say kids should eat healthy, but if you enforce that society looks at you like you’re an abuser. I see parents feeding their babies corndogs and icecream. Babies! They don’t even ask for it! But if you don’t give your kids sweets its like you’re depriving them of something kid deserve to have. Its really odd.

    Right now I enforce a strict diet of whole foods and grains. Not even white flour. Mostly because she’s one and wouldn’t know the difference. When she’s three or so she can have an occasional dessert with the rest of us.

    I do know that when I was a kid my mother didn’t care how mad I was that I couldn’t have Gremlins cereal with tonnes of frosting and sugar in every bite. She tasted it, thought it was too sweet, and gave it to the neighbors. Today I’m a fit 130 lb man. So parents can control what kids eat effectively and for the rest of their lives.

  16. Kaien says:

    I’m curious if the juicing of veggies + fruits is effecient at getting kids to drink them for their healthy intake.
    I plan to be a parent and well, and I think that me being average weight is a good point since the kids tend to look at a parent (I believe) as how to behave.
    So, perhaps parents themselves are also causing more than they think.
    It is a shame though, $1,000,000,000 and I thought those Shrek ads would help somehow. Maybe it’d work more if pokemon or Harry potter did it too?

  17. timmus says:

    @letoofdune: “I can only purchase an amount of groceries that I’m comfortable carrying home. Somehow, the slab of brisket looks less appealing when you have to lug it uphill.”

    Great quote. That would also nix sodas and bulky junk food. Sadly though I have to concede that those Hostess Mini-Donuts are lightweight and don’t take up much space.

  18. QuirkyRachel says:

    My mother just never bought any of that crap. That’s not to say that I never ate it, but you’re not required to buy things for your kids just because there’s a cartoon character on the box.

  19. mandawest says:

    So the same people who told us that ketchup counted as a vegetable serving are in charge of solving our childhood obesity problem now?
    As a new parent, I have become highly aware of the fact that I must set an example if I want my son to grow up healthy. So I eat healthy, I go to the gym and find ways to exercise throughout my daily routine. I’m fortunate to have an active job – as a paramedic, spending my day lifting and treating the often obese people who call 911. If I don’t offer my child crappy food, he won’t eat it. He won’t have a choice to only eat mac and cheese and hot dogs, because they won’t be in the house. And by the time school comes around, he won’t have a taste for it. He’ll also have a lunch prepared by myself, not the lowest bidder for the school lunch.

  20. timmus says:

    Also kudos to what creativelinks said. It is just fricking absurd driving near a school and seeing 275 SUVs muscling in to pick up their kids. We lived near an elementary school in Austin whose front grounds were completely torn up because parents were offroading their vehicles onto the school grounds to avoid the parking lot. These kinds of overprotective parents not only contribute to obesity but are doubtlessly the same ones voting our freedoms away for “security” laws.

  21. Mary says:

    In studies where children tell researchers they are eating better or exercising more, there is usually no change in blood pressure, body size or cholesterol measures. They want to eat better and might even think they are, but they’re not.

    Here’s a thought, maybe that’s because eating better and excercising is NOT magic cure to all health problems.

    The kids could very well be telling the truth and the fact is that their health, despite their weight, wasn’t that bad to begin with. I know it’s impossible for people to really imagine, but sometimes a person can be “medically overweight” and NOT have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes all at once.

    I certainly hope they’re not telling the kids that “they might think they are [eating better], but they’re not.” Way to discourage the behavior you’re looking for.

    I’m so sick and tired of this obesity epidemic that if I see the word I want to scream. An hour of research and you’ll find that half of what the media is spewing at us is not backed up by multiple studies, and is based on suspect math at best.

    Maybe I think all this because I’m reading Rethinking Thin, and it’s a complete eye-opener. I wish it was required reading.

  22. azntg says:

    Of course the Federal Pilot Program would fail miserably… no doubt, the fruits and vegetables they picked must’ve been the cheapest possible without any regard for taste. It’s one thing if kids have completely no choice for food, but if they have choices, but the better tasting of the two is the unhealthy kind, guess what they’ll pick?

    Going through primary and secondary schools in the NYC system, even though the foods are supposed to be more appealing to us, it’s not. Ask the teachers (who say that they get served the same food as us). It’s no secret that the food served is simply the heat’n’serve kinds, but somehow all the schools I went to seemed to have trouble with that. Excessively greasy, salty, rock hard, charred, etc. One (or more!) of those adjectives would describe the NYC Public school food adequately. Is it any surprise that I (among many students) opted to hold in my hunger, wait until afterschool and feast on chips and Snapple? (Later in the school years, I’ve packed lunch from home)

  23. VeryFancyBunny says:

    I shudder to think about what I ate growing up in the ’80s. Chicken McNuggets and breaded chicken parts from the Tyson’s box, beef nuggets and hamburgers from the school cafeteria, creamed corn at home. The human body must be pretty durable — I’m amazed I survived all that junk in my digestive system. Playing outside every day (at school and at home) and riding my bike all over the place probably helped.

    It takes so much resolve to overcome typical American culture these days. I get harangued at work for rarely going out to lunch, for not “taking advantage” of the fridge stocked with free Cokes, and for bringing fruits and veggies and whole grains and organic yogurt for lunch every day. It’s tough for me to go to my parents’ house for dinner and have to push aside some of the processed stuff they continue to want to serve me. It’s tough to get up early and run on the sidewalk of a busy street and pretend I’m not self-conscious. If I struggle with these things as a 27-year-old, think of what the kids are up against. If your parents and your school aren’t encouraging healthy eating and exercise, how on Earth can you know to push aside all the other aspects of our culture that are telling you how unimportant they are?

  24. kerry says:

    @letoofdune: I also walk to the store and, for fun, I like to walk to the furthest stores I can, within reason. There are a couple supermarkets and a Trader Joe’s about a mile and a half from my house. I pack a comfortable, reusable grocery bag (or two) and put on my iPod and walk to the store after I get home from work. However, we cook a huge meal on Sunday to be consumed through Wednesday, and therefore don’t need a lot of groceries during the week. But, we’re always out of something and I’ve got 2 hours to kill from the time I get home from work until BF gets home. I’ve lost about 10 pounds since I started doing this. I also started eating fruit instead of chips/fries/cookies at lunch.
    Also, to QuirkyRachel and Mark 2000: My mom was the same way, and even though I ate that crap at friends’ houses I find that I don’t crave it as much as real food now that I’m a grownup. It’s telling that my preferred afternoon snack is granola and dried fruit, not donuts. That said, I love me some flaming hot cheetos and salt ‘n’ vinegar chips, so it’s not like I’m health nut 100% of the time.

  25. goodkitty says:

    It’s definately a lifestyle problem, though pervasive advertising doesn’t help. With kids being denied recess because they may actually touch one another, PE being canceled or curtailed, dense cities and clogged suburban areas removing playgrounds and places where kids can move about, and boredom leading to comfort eating at an early age, it’s no surprise to see this happening. Plus, parents are far too interested in making little Johnny happy at any cost, even if it means giving him a Twinkie every five minutes if he screams. There is no scientific food mystery behind our obese society; the problem is us.

    Like CreativeLinks said…

    1960: Johnny screams that he wants a pop tart for dinner. Dad smacks him upside the head for being stupid. Johnny eats his lima beans and goes out to play.

    2010: Johnny gets an IM that Pizza Hut delivered dinner, because Dad is working his second job and Mom is too stressed to cook and is strung out on Xanax anyway. Johnny has four slices and goes upstairs to scream obscenities at people on XBox Live.

    Nutrition guidelines, my $%#*.

  26. ShadeWalker says:

    i think there should be more negative reinforcement… or hook up a tv to a bike generator.

  27. lo_fro says:

    My 1st grade teacher was anorexic (we all assumed), and one day during storytime, she decided to talk about healthy foods. Then she zeroed in on me — who notoriously ate PB&J made by my mom everyday — and said that if you ate too much peanutbutter I would have a heart attack and die.

    I wouldn’t each my PB&J sandwich for about a month after that. My mom was kind of upset.

    But, you know, I was a normal kid. My parents didn’t let us have sugary cereal, but we always had snack foods and constantly ate fast food.

    The semi-ironic part is that we ate fast food because it was the quickest and most convenient thing to eat most days of the week when we were busy traveling all over the state playing sports.

    We ate kind of crappy sometimes. But was also ate a lot of homecooked meals and packed lunches. But most importantly, I play sports year round and was ALWAYS active.

    I’m still not fat.

  28. Trai_Dep says:

    Big diff btn now and then: high fructose corn syrup. It’s in everything processed. It’s artificially cheap because of corporate farm welfare. Read labels and you’ll be amazed at how often it shows up.

    And it seems that servings are larger, and more fried foods?

    Basically, as well noted, processed foods are the main course on Satan’s dinner table.

    And parents, stop shoveling your brats in the SUV when they want to go places. Walking/riding is awesome. No one will kidnap your kids (let’s face it: they’re too ugly to be keepers).

  29. gusgus says:

    Fruits & veggies have a short shelf life.

    Chips, soda & pretty much everything else stays good for several months.

    Unless you have someone staying at home minding the house, it’s much more difficult to maintain a good diet on the fly. You an probably attribute much of this to the loss of the stay-at-home mom.

    (This is not a slam about how women should stay in the kitchen. This is just covering the fact that without someone male or female doing the work, a fastfood lifestyle takes over.)

  30. shaunalynne says:

    I appreciate the nod to the challenges facing parents! As a parent, my tactics have been to start early with mindfulness of what we’re eating, very limited TV time, and trips to the park as often as possible. Some of the big life choices you make inevitably impact the smaller, though; we live in a dense metro (Los Angeles) so I don’t anticipate letting her out of our apartment complex to play until she’s much, much older, and I’m a single mom, so she spends long hours at daycare. Career advancement would mean longer hours, which could mean being able to afford a full-time babysitter who could take her to the park more often, would definitely mean less direct supervision from me.

    So mostly, I deal with the considerable anxiety about the childhood obesity epidemic by not freaking out about it, and taking each day with mindfulness and as much positive outcome planning as is possible. So far, so healthy.

  31. tschepsit says:

    Gee, that “cooked by Mom” thing, what is that? I know this isn’t PC and probably won’t play well with this crowd, but the fact is that if both parents must work outside the home to make ends meet (or, more likely, to afford their desired lifestyles), there’s virtually no way to get your kid enough healthy food or ensure he/she gets enough exercise.

  32. Brie says:

    @mandawest: be careful; you might have to relax on that like I did. Kids, especially when they hit school, will eventually see and taste the crap – and face it, a lot of junk food does taste really good. I’ve learned to concentrate my energies on what I feed my kids at home, expect that they WILL get snacks and candy at school and from – gack – grandparents, and lecture them ad nauseam about making good choices.

    Also, I don’t drive my kids TO school – I drop them off half a mile away and pick them up there, too. Spares me the school-zone traffic and gives them some exercise.

  33. reznicek111 says:

    @ShadeWalker: at my local YMCA we have a row of five big TV screen, but the headphone modules on the fitness equipment only power-on when the user is exercising at moderately brisk pace (about 45rpm’s on the bikes and elliptical trainers). You can watch but can’t listen to any programs unless you’re actively exercising; stop pedaling, and the sound shuts off. Might be an interesting idea for home entertainment systems, too.

  34. ancientsociety says:

    @gusgus: Is it REALLY that hard to go to the supermarket or famrer’s market once a week? Fresh food doesn’t go bad in a day and usually lasts a few days.

    My wife and I go to the farmer’s market every Saturday morning (unless she’s working at it, but then we get free veggies and such anyway) and if we pace our fresh foods out carefully (i.e. eating the more perishable stuff first – usually fruits – and saving the less perishable stuff for later in the week – carrots or potatoes) we can get by until the next weekend.

    You don’t need a stay-at-home mom/dad or a maid to help you eat right. It’s all about common sense and learning what works.

  35. lincolnparadox says:

    @Kaien: Juicing can provide your kids daily fruit/veggie intake, so long as you do it yourself and you mix the fiber back in with the juice. Or, get a juicer that just pulverizes everything into a thick sludge. The fiber is just as important as the other nutrients. Canned/bottled juices are typically strained. If you buy 100% juice, it could make a decent substitute for one or two services of fruit a day.

    @tschepsit: Cooked by a parent, to be PC, but anything but out of a box. I know, it’s more difficult to come home, make a meal with fresh ingredients and have it ready before everyone has to go to bed. My family typically isn’t home until 6 or 7pm. But, that’s what has to happen. Processed foods contain too many preservatives (benzoates and sorbates) and unnecessary sugars (HFCS). Fresh food and portion control. Daily exercise as part of one’s life. It’s the only way things will turn around.

  36. spanky says:

    Yeah, it might not be SOP for most people, but I raised my kid on my own, and he ate well and got plenty of exercise. Cut back on the TV (we didn’t even have one until he was about 7), do your errands on foot or bike, find a good day care that doesn’t just plonk the kids in front of the TV, and you’ve got a good start right there.

    I’ll admit it’s a lot easier if you’re living in a city. We couldn’t do the bike errands as easily here in the suburbs, because of the zoning thing TechnoDestructo brings up. But with a crock pot, a bread maker, and weekly vegetable shopping, you can feed your kids reasonably well, at least, without a huge effort.

  37. Xerloq says:

    1. The problem is that wholesome foods are becoming “luxury items” while the junk is a commodity. The point is not how people choose to spend their money, but the relative cost of the items in question. 2 Liters of orange soda $0.79; 2 liters of orange juice $1.79.

    2. I agree on the time to prepare foods vs. getting even takeout. By the time I’m back with take-out or by the time the pizza is delivered (30-45 minutes) I can make a meal and eat it at home.

    @Mark 2000:
    130 LBS! Jeez! I agree though; we’ve given our son fruits, veggies and other good foods since he was able to eat solids. The other day, I gave him some candy as a treat which he promptly spit out and said, “yech!”

  38. Notsewfast says:

    @ Gusgus:
    While this may be true for some, it is not neccesarily the case.

    I’m an investment banker and regularly work 60+ hour weeks. I eat a lot of pasta, frsh fruits and vegetables.

    I cook food almost every night and have no problems. I buy pasta (which keeps forever) at the grocery store, and produce once or twice a week at the local farmers market. Everything is healthy, fresh, organic, and CHEAP.

    I rarely eat out and never eat fast food, saying that it is neccesary is an excuse.

    Also, I find that eating this way gives me the energy to cook each day.

    I don’t have kids (yet) but there are far more healthy & cheap options if you’re willing to look somewhere other than the local strip mall.

  39. tschepsit says:

    @lincolnparadox: I agree that’s what has to happen, I just don’t think it WOULD happen for us if one of us didn’t stay at home. I KNOW that’s the case for many of our friends.

  40. notebook says:

    Actually, it’s a general dislike of school food. Not just the fruits and veggies. -snorts-

    A suggestion meal: Costco sells Rotisserie chickens. Buy one. They’re good, and already cooked for you. Why not add a few steamed vegetables on the side, like carrots and broccoli? Maybe mashed potatoes, or a salad as well. That’s a meal that tastes good, and is healthy.

    I’d also like to add, it’s not that kids are choosing bad meals. It’s that we snack a lot more as a country. And that the ‘unhealthy’ foods are the ones most liable to be snacked on, because you don’t need to cook them, and they are more steadily available.
    I’ve been to a middle school very recently on a trip, and they would have snacks at the end ten minutes of lunch. It was ice cream, chips, sodas, or water. Nothing else. And I’d see kids walking away with three bags or more of those small candy-machine sized bags of chips. They had those posters about ‘eating right’ and eating your fruits and veggies, but they didn’t have any for one to eat.

    I’m not saying that it’s the schools job. Parents need to enforce the idea of healthy eating, and everything is good in moderation.

    Uh, I guess it would be good to add, that informing was never a good choice with kids. Stuff bounces right off them. It would be like the normal education. We learn something, get tested on it, do what we do, and move on, forgetting what was just learned. If a plan was to be made, it would have to be better. Even if I don’t have much of an idea how.

  41. ceejceej says:

    @quagmire0: Amen and Amen.

    Here’s a thought…how ’bout we leave some kids behind and bring back PE to public schools?

  42. nardo218 says:

    Junk food tastes good to a kid who has no taste, but honestly, it isn’t good food. The baked goods are waxy with chemicals, the chips are tasteless without a cup of salt, burgers and chicken fingers sit in your stomach like a rock. If you transported someone from pre-1900 to our time, they’d think our food is disgusting.

    So, ita with the people opposed to the schools’ and marketing folks’ idea that kids only eat crap. It’s hard to fight against the tide of cartoon characters and shrill, engaging commercials, but if you train them early that veggies aren’t a punishment, you can influence them.

    BTW, kids drinking their veggies in juice is a horrid idea. A cup of juice has as much, if not more, sugar than a cup of cola.

  43. Orchid64 says:

    The loss of a parent who stays at home and acts as primary caretaker is a huge part of the problem with kids. It doesn’t have to be the mother but someone has to have the time and energy to shop, prepare food, and spend the time exercising with the kids. It’s all well and good to say that it doesn’t take that much time to cook but the truth is that it’s not just about the cooking. It’s about the cleaning and the shopping as well which can, depending on the meal, double or triple the time added to cooking home meals/lunches.

    And, as others have pointed out, healthy food is more expensive than unhealthy food. A family can pick up 3 boxes of a no-name knock-off of Kraft macaroni and cheese for a buck and the kids love it. Unfortunately, it also sends their blood sugar crazy and makes them want to eat more and more refined carbohydrates.

    The roots of this problem spread deep and wide. The fact that families can’t live on one income very well anymore because the middle class is shrinking and good jobs which allow one person to make enough to support a family with kids are decreasing is a part of it. The fact that stay-at-home parents get no respect in western culture is another part of it. Consumerist culture which encourages consumption above all else is another part of it as is technology which makes sedentary pursuits more attractive.

    The school system also needs to revamp the phys. ed. classes so they aren’t such a horrific experience and focus on fitness over competition. Why aren’t all kids taken for a half hour walk every day during school hours? How hard would it be to schedule this instead of a class everyone but the most athletic end up hating?

    The truth is that western culture isn’t interested in solving this problem. It’s only interested in making money from it and pointing fingers because that’s easier than dealing with the wide base of problems causing the issue.

  44. synergy says:

    @VeryFancyBunny: I get some of that too. You’re not alone!

  45. kerry says:

    @ceejceej: Or make participation in sports mandatory. I went to a public high school where PE was mandatory (I knew kids who didn’t graduate because they kept skipping PE), then transferred to a private school without PE. Instead, we had to part join an athletic team. Freshmen and sophomores had to participate all three seasons, juniors and seniors just two. I, an avowed slouch at sports, spent two years playing varsity field and ice hockey and loving both of them very much.
    Of course, no public school in the country could get away with mandatory sports participation, what a shame.

  46. SaraAB87 says:

    This whole problem is really varied, there is not one single cause of childhood obesity, it can be anything from just eating too much junk to having a mom with gestational diabetes, genetics or other medical conditions such as a kid who is required to be on certain medication due to a chronic illness which causes them to gain weight.

    A big issue though is that kids are taught that fruit and vegetables are healthy and good for them however when they get to the lunch counter all they see are hamburgers, chicken nuggets, hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. Thats not a real good way to enforce what you teach.

    When you go to the grocery store the majority of the foods in the store are junk foods, or unhealthy foods, or the junk and unhealthy foods are placed in the places in the grocery store where you can most easily see them while you have to hunt the store for good for you foods. Maybe if grocery stores put more of a focus on healthy foods instead of always selling the most junk possible this problem would be lessened. Again this doesn’t reinforce the idea of eating healthy foods which is taught to kids.

    Its basically a lifestyle too, in my town there is nothing to do for kids, free excercise should be abundant in large cities but everything has a fee. Most places that you can go to charge 10$ or more for parking, this isn’t helping either if there is no place to excercise for cheap or free.

    Most entertainment that requires movement by children is now considered “unsafe”. Playgrounds have removed most equipment because of potential lawsuits and we are being told not to take our kids to amusment parks anymore because the rides are unsafe. Sports are a no-no because a kid could get injured and kids are not allowed to play outside around their homes because of lurking sexual predators (and besides with both parents working just to make ends meat who has time to haul your kid to sports!). Couple that with the addition of parking fees to almost any state or city park and the unwillingness of parents to look and find ways to give their kids physical excercise when they can just plop them in front of the TV or Computer for entertainment for hours instead!

    To recap since excercise and physical activity opportunities are not readily available where I live kids are getting less and less excercise, excercise should be a part of daily life, you shouldn’t have to think about it, especially when you are a kid, but now you actually have to “look” for opportunities to excercise and thats why I think people are getting less and less excercise here.

  47. Michael says:

    I wonder if the problem is that these programs make eating healthier less cool; I remember the disaster that was the DARE program for my generation.

  48. Kaien says:

    @ NARDO218
    I meant pure juice, nothing you buy. As in using a juicer and just mixing in the veggies with a fruit to make it get the great tastes that fruits give.


    Good points in all… the lawsuits that have spiked up should be a factor.
    I guess I’m out of date on what schools are these days, as I used to get plenty of exercise and injuries from sports (scratches and burns).

    I also must be lucky, since I live close to a high school with an open track and free parking. However, the walk is usually better depending on the time of the day.

  49. SaraAB87 says:

    I am out of date on what schools are like too but I do know that most of the playground equipment at the popular spots for kids has been removed, and many of the places I used to go as a kid for free now have parking fees of 10$ over more. Amusement parks are a complete joke anyways as most “trap” you in the park and do not let you bring food and drink into the park effectivly forcing you to eat the only food choices in the park, and most parks do not offer healthy food choices. We do have a few smaller family-owned parks in this area that I personally know are OK and safe to take the kids but the costs of going there still add up.

    The one place I used to go all the time had the playground equipment slowly removed within the last 10 years starting with teeter totters etc… I am guessing because it was just considered too dangerous to leave up. There’s just nothing left here for kids to do, so its no wonder people are staying in more. Community pools are also closing left and right… etc to save money and put more money into the pockets of the city officials. I think every city should have a responsibility to the children to create free places like parks with playground equipment for kids to be active especially in the summer and maybe we would see kids using these places if cities only created them. The obesity problem will only get worse if there is nothing for kids to do. I don’t even think the sexual predator thing affects too many people in this area as most seem to have no problem letting their kids in the yard to play, only the super paranoid parents don’t and there aren’t too many of those at least around here.

    In Japan they have huge indoor play centers for kids, I have seen video of them, and they look amazing, and they are indoor so when its too hot to play outside and too cold to play outside there is still something for kids to do. These places are huge, offer sports and many other activities for kids to do at a low cost per child. We don’t have anything like that here. Also these places admit adults and children and do not have restrictions on activities, aka anyone can do anything not ok this place is only for kids and parents just sit and watch the kids. We need some places like this in the USA. The Japanese people also play twice as many video games as american children or more and yet they are skinny, so it has to be the american lifestyle and not just one thing that is making our kids fat.

  50. TWinter says:

    Where do all of you people live that have had the playground equipment removed? My city has replaced old equipment with newer stuff that seems to have been designed with safety in mind, but there is still stuff there for the kids.

  51. HungryGrrl says:

    My grandfather often comments on how food-conscious people are these days, whereas when he was a child in the 1930s his father ate 2 eggs for breakfast every day, his family drank whole milk, and he ate a slice of cake everyday, and not one of the 12 kids was ever overweight. But, I guess when you’ve got 12 kids, there was no option for a second slice of cake!

    Myself, I grew up as an extremely picky child in the 80s/90s. Through gradeschool I bascially lived on yogurt, carrot sticks, cheese sandwiches, fritos and fruit- but those are pretty balanced sounding for a picky kid! I wouldn’t touch school lunch unless it was French Bread Pizza day. My highschool lunch choices were especially
    horrible and I pretty much only ate Snapple and Hostess Donettes for lunch for the last two years of highschool (those were spent in NH instead of MA- big difference in school lunch quality between those states). But desipte that unhealthy choice I have never been overweight… probably because my lunch was only around 500 calories.

    I don’t like how people are making the 1960s out to be some wonderous time, when in fact that is when the cartoon-tie in, sugar coated processed cereals were first getting in swing. And that’s when soda companys started marketing their product s for daily at-home use, not a once a week soda fountain treat. And that’s when TV dinners came about. And that’s when fast food took off. The 1960s were terrible for American eating habits- and it’s the people who grew up then, eating that junk, that are making the decisions about what to feed their kids and what should be on the school lunch menus today.

  52. etinterrapax says:

    I’m with the zoning-causes-obesity camp, though I don’t discount the whole spectrum of food issues. In truth they’re probably about equally to blame, but I don’t believe that fixing only one would change this, as efforts to fix the food issues have proven. What we haven’t done is insist that all neighborhoods have sidewalks, invest in community schools that are within reasonable walking/biking distance of the vast majority of the students they serve, plan for shopping areas ditto, invest in street police officers to keep those neighborhoods safe and patrolled, and see to it that kids embrace a lifestyle of active, daily community engagement.

  53. queen_elvis says:

    Anyone who’s ever been on a diet knows that permanent weight loss is going to have to = permanent lifestyle changes. Bribing kids to eat right, like they did in one study, was obviously never going to work.

  54. Red Devil Dogg says:

    As a father of three – 16, 9 and 5, my observation is that the relationship between you, your kids and food is going to be a complex mess – especially when they start going to school – less because of the school lunch pressure (we pack their lunches every morning) and more because of peer pressure.

    We try our best – expose them to as many foods as possible (edamame, brie, hummus and tofu are favorites for the little kids,) allow consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables any time, cook at home nearly every night, avoid processed stuff as much as possible, limit junk food, and nearly eliminate soda. We have no obesity problems – in fact the 9 year old is skinny as a rail, but we still fight food battles all the time. For example:

    The 16 year old is finally coming out of a phase where if it didn’t come from a restaurant, highly processed or individually wrapped, then it wasn’t worth eating. She sure as heck didn’t get that from us. It lasted about four years and basically took the combination of maturity, becoming an athlete, cooking once in a while, and being forced to live within a budget to come out of it.

    The little kids get pretty dessert focused every so often – to the point where it seems like their whole purpose for eating is to get at some sweets. Again, they didn’t get that from us. We try to keep the stuff out of the house as much as possible and much of what we have is home made. However, when it’s around we try to strike a balance between keeping the portions small and finishing it off so we won’t have to hear them whining about it any more.

  55. strathmeyer says:

    Interesting that articles like this can blame the parents while ignoring the number of parents that are themselves obese.

  56. SaraAB87 says:

    The healthy eating program doesn’t work, if you were going to bribe kids into healthy eating you would have to do it all the time, aka constantly bribing them, which might work but it would be costly. It worked with me because my parents constantly bribed me with money for good grades, and yes I kept my grades up to get the money. But what are you bribing them with, you must also bribe them with something that is healthy for them, don’t bribe them with a gameboy and 10 games, or bribe them for good grades with a gift certificate to mcdonalds. Maybe bribe them with a new bike or something, although that may not be as effective as bribing them with video games, but there has to be something other than video games that kids want that would be healthy for them and that you could bribe them with. This is no joke either, at my cousins school they are “rewarded” for good grades and other acheivements with a gift cert to McDonalds.

    If you run a healthy eating program the most important thing is to be consistant, spending hours teaching the kids about healthy eating in class then having them go to the lunchroom to be fed nothing but mac & cheese and hot dogs isn’t going to work. Rewarding a kid for being student of the month with a gift cert to McDonalds isn’t sending a good message either. Bribing isn’t going to work unless you do it consistantly either, it might work if you constantly bribed kids, but probably not the best way to go about it.

    They have installed some new playground equipment here but my problem with it is that first of all its geared for kids who are ages 4 and under and also sized for them, and also there is significantly less playground equipment so if 1-3 kids are occupying it thats about all it can take. We used to have stuff that could accomodate all kids and even adults such as swings and teeter totters, but it doesn’t work if you can only accomodate the smallest of kids and only up to 3 kids at a time. There used to be about 6-8 teeter totters, 2 baby swingsets, 3-4 adult swing sets, 3-4 slides, monkey bars, jungle gym, ride-on spring animals (oh these were great fun!), now there is a single plastic plaything that can hold about 3 kids at a time and like 1 set of baby swings.

    Oh and also the fast food places have reduced their playgrounds to nothing, there used to be one burger king here that had a HUGE playground. I mean seriously as a kid you did not want to leave that place and you were begging your parents to take you there on weekends to play not to mention you didn’t even want to eat the food while there you just wanted to play. There was a Mcdonalds that was the same and had an even bigger playplace with rides, slides, the whole works, and it was all free, again I was begging to go there and I didn’t want the food either, I just wanted to play, as a kid you could stay for hours at these places and it didn’t even seem like you were excercising because it was so much fun. Now the playplaces have been reduced to one plastic slide.

  57. @nardo218: Well that’s a matter of opinion.

    I’m with the zoning/sidewalk crowd. There was a thing on CNN a while back about urban food deserts. In a lot of places things are just spaced too far apart to walk.

    Which is not to say I don’t agree with the other problems stated. I just wish the people who claimed they were trying to fight obesity would realize that 1) these all problems contribute to it and 2) come up with solutions that aren’t new problems. Such as:

    * Feeding them crappy fruits and veggies so they’re actually less willing to eat them.
    * Bribing them to eat healthier instead of teaching them that it’s something they’re supposed to do.
    * Accusing them of lying or being wrong when they do change their habits.

  58. nardo218 says:

    @Orchid64: Why aren’t all kids taken for a half hour walk every day during school hours? How hard would it be to schedule this instead of a class everyone but the most athletic end up hating?

    Yes, ITA. There was a very small alternative gym class called “Fitness” I took junior and senior year, but only ~50 out of some thousands of students took it. We did The Grind workout (this was the 90s), ran track, did weightroom, kickboxing, physical defense. The girls who took it loved it, but the school needed to encourage it more; teenagers won’t do anything that everyone else isn’t doing.

  59. Trackback says:

    In a classic case of “too little, too late”, research says that the $1 billion that the federal government is spending each year on “healthy eating” campaigns isn’t doing jack for today’s overweight kids, according to The Consumerist.  Childhood obesity rates in kids ages 6-11 have quadrupled…