02 March 2010

U.S. kids: Making the move to "constant eating"

According to a new article released today by Reuters, a new study is calling into question if our psychological need to eat is being "deregulated."

The article, "Snacks mean U.S. kids moving toward 'constant eating,'" examines how childrens' daily calorie intakes have increased by nearly 113 calories per day since the 1970s. More than 27 percent of those calories, the article states, come in the form of daily snacks, mainly "salty snacks and candy. Desserts and sweetened beverages remain the major sources of calories from snacks."

The extra calories are adding up quick, it seems. According to the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health, the obesity rate for children 10-17 was 14.8 percent in 2003. By 2007, it had jumped to 16.4 percent – an increase of nearly two points. If the same trends continue, we could logically deduce that today's childhood obesity rate is around 20 percent.

While politicians wring their hands about a crisis they can use to score face time, I think another culprit is to blame for at least some of this behavior: the food industry. I'm not meaning the people who sell apples. I'm talking about the companies like Kraft Foods, whose smiling faces-laden website nearly crashed my old computer. The company owns both Oreo and Nabisco, makers of such fine, healthy treats as Oreo cookies. Both branches have annual profits approaching $1 billion.

The extended reach of influence of these snacks' marketing prowess is capable of stirring real or imagined hunger in viewers at the drop of a hat. Years ago, cigarette ads on television were discontinued after mounting research proved that cigarettes were unhealthy. Now, they are disappearing from print, too. Why shouldn't we expect to see the same sort of regulation regarding ads that target a demographic that doesn't even know how to spell "demographics?" Has "childhood" become another marketing category on a whiteboard in some anonymous boardroom? I think it has, and that's unfortunate.

Ironically, Phillip Morris (or "Altria," the deliberately-forgettable new name it has been given) now owns both Kraft and Nabisco. I know the argument about "free will" would be bandied about, but let's face it – "free will" isn't exactly working out so hot for our kids, is it? Or that matter, for adults, whose collective waistlines (mine included) expand by the year.

I know there is a burden on consumers to regulate themselves. I know that each of us has the choice to make – to eat healthy and take care of ourselves, or to give up. But the balance of choice is upset in a day and age when food is marketed to us as a panacea for all things: a drug, a secret lover, an indulgence and a reward. We want all of those things, and marketers know that. In the end, the adults are just as bad as the kids – only the adults should know better.

I think we'd all be better served if the sort of in-your-face constant marketing we've grown up with would stop. In the end, food is many things, but at its base, it is simply a way for us to stay alive for another day. At its core, it is nothing more than sustenance – and I think it would benefit all of us to remember just exactly what that means.

1 comment:

Noel Petit said...

In sort of a sick sense, overeating is very good for the economy. It leads to many health problems that need to be solved with massive expenditures. Watch the TV and you will see 1) Ads for snacks 2) Ads for weight loss and 3) Ads for other drugs. The economy would collapse without all of these. Frito-Lay is too big to fail.