Fight for Your Food Rights

Who’s to blame for the obesity epidemic? The suspects are many, from television to schools to parents. A growing number of people are arguing that one culprit – the food and beverage industry – is getting off relatively scot-free.

Fashion magazines, infomercials, and our own past failures seem to place all of the blame on the individual. We’re constantly reminded that we’ve screwed up, or that we’re not good enough, or that being overweight is the result of some personal defect. Not true, not true, and REALLY not true.

Personal choice and personal responsibility play huge roles in building a healthy lifestyle. Nobody can do it for you, but throwing up your hands, feeling powerless, and blaming other people is no answer. But recognizing the effect that food and beverage marketing can have on your psyche, attitude and actions is important too. When you recognize what they’re doing, you can more effectively fight back and make your own informed decisions.

"The food industry is changing, but slowly," says Dr. Kelly Brownell, author of Food Fight, a look at America’s obsession with food and what we can do about it. "Dieters can become ‘media literate.’ This means being vigilant to and upset about the multiple layers of persuasion the industry uses to get them and their children to eat unhealthy foods (not only the obvious food ads on TV, but product placements in shows and movies, pricing strategies, etc.)."

According to Dr. Brownell, we should pay particular attention to:
  • Portion sizes that are getting out of hand
  • Value pricing that encourages consumption
  • Food and beverage marketing to children
  • The presence of sugar (a 20 oz bottle of Coke has 15 teaspoons)
  • Lifestyle choices that promote overeating, such as television and eating out
  • Gaining easy access to healthy food

A good place to start looking at is in school. Many of us would be shocked to learn just how sugar-packed and calorie-laden school food really is. Menu choices are often very limited and surprisingly unhealthy. Faced with these choices every day, it’s no wonder more than 15% of teenagers are overweight. They can’t win this fight on their own. You have to help your schools make choices for them. Talk to your school boards and principals. Ask that soda machines be removed and that menus follow USDA nutritional guidelines.

Says Dr. Brownell, "School systems all around the country are taking on this issue, first by getting rid of soft drinks in vending machines. This movement is growing and will probably be joined soon by more organized efforts to get rid of unhealthy snack foods, improve school lunches, and increase physical activity."

At home, it’s important to think critically about what you’re eating. People make mistakes all the time, thinking that they’re eating healthy when they’re really not. Mainly, it’s because they’re not paying quite enough attention. For example, Dr. Brownell cites parents giving their kids "sugared drinks with fruit in the name or sports drinks, thinking kids are getting something healthy," is a common mistake, along with "eating whatever is in a bag, box, or bottle, thinking they are having just one serving," when it could easily be 2, 3, or more.

It’s never too late to start. In fact, today you can take a few simple steps to make your kitchen healthier. Dr. Brownell suggests starting by immediately throwing out "soft drinks, sugared cereals, high calorie snacks, and almost any product with a cartoon character or celebrity attached."

The food and beverage industry is a formidable foe. While the "5 A Day" vegetable and fruit program gets $2 million to promote its message, the Altoids mints brand alone is free to spend $10 million. With so much money and so many resources behind them, it’s easy to see how this could affect your food choices.

Even so, it’s your job to make sure the right choices are still made. With enough information and a vigilant stance, you can do it.
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Member Comments

thanks Report
Good to know. Report
As far as advertising and all that, we know what's bad for us and what's healthy. The real culprit is EXPENSE. Sometimes you just have buy the salty cheaper alternative, sometimes you can't afford avocados and olive oil and heck even apples are SO EXPENSIVE compared to junk. You can get a box of 12 cupcakes for a $1.29 that barely covers the cost of one apple where I live. and I need at least seven pieces of fruit for the week. You can get a box of four individual pizzas for $3.50, but I'm paying $5.00 per salad. And again I need one for every day. Even if I bought the lettuce myself, instead of the packaged lettuce, it would still cost me twice anything in the frozen junk section. It's so much cheaper and wages are not really covering the cost of living that I don't know how anyone who wasn't a high earning profession like doctor, lawyer, etc. could possibly afford to be healthy. Especially if you have a family! My family refuses to eat healthy so I only have to buy for myself and I spend a hundred dollars a week easy. I can't imagine if they all decided to eat with me. We'd have no money, we've already canceled cable because our rent keeps skyrocketing. it's definitely a case of only the wealthy can afford to be healthy. Report
As an adult, I blame my overweightness on my self. I’m the only one to blame. I had make the choice not to exercise. I made the choices to overeat and eat the wrong things.

When I comes to the kids, it starts at home. I have one daughter that I raised. She was in sports, we ate well balanced meals, and really had a healthy active lifestyle. When she went to school, I don’t know what she ate Even if I made her lunch. I knew when she was home, she ate what I put on the table. She’s never had a weight problem and she is over 30 now.

Also, I have a comment about fast food places, let’s take McDonalds - they get a bad wrap. I agree that it’s not a place to eat at all the time, but the burgers and fries are a whole lot less calories and fat than Red Robin. So why doesn’t Red Robin get a bad wrap.

I starts within and at home.
Good info! Thanks! Report
Good article. Report
One thing that wasn't pointed out in 2005, the date of this article, nor currently is how BIG the food & beverage industries influence is in setting our 'guidelines'. The guidelines that most nutritionist & health professionals spout as gospel. The grain, sugar, beverage, etc councils have much more sway in setting these guidelines. The guidelines after being shopped around to these incredibly well funded, often subsidized 'councils' don't reffect health, the reflect pocket lining special interest money.
Notice the date on this article? Written in 2005. The message is still just as timely now as it was back then. In fact it may make even more impact since we can make good use of social media to stir things up to help ultimately make them better. Bring on the "Sun Butter" (sunflower seed nut butter) or is that not allowed now either. Think they're seeds rather than a true nut. Either way, we have alternatives although the price of Sun Butter is a whole lot too high imo. The bottom line is we are in charge of what we put in our mouth. Can't blame others like the restaurants for giving larger portions. Can't blame the food manufacturers even when they're targeting children with their ads. Just learn to say no and make the more healthy choice for yourself and your family. Report
reply to comment by CRONKSTAIRS: As far as school kids taking a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, most children can't do this as it is FORBIDDEN due to the large % of children with peanut allergies.
I agree with most people that we can't blame the food industry, advertising etc for our obesity although in the case of restaurant portions, they have increased so gradually that many people have not realized how large they've become until it was pointed out strongly. In some cases it was beyond the point where they already had the obesity problem. Report
I think some people are forgetting money issues. We qualified for free lunch at school, it was better for my mom and us for my sister and I to eat at school than to pack lunch, it allowed her to buy us more food for dinner and clothing. Not everyone has the luxury of a disposable income. Report
For those who think parents are slackers about packing lunches-try reading the requirements that some school systems put on them. No, you can't pack them milk because there's no way to keep it cold. And you don't know how hormone-ridden the school's milk is since the brand changes regularly. A peanut butter sandwich might be cheap, but it's not allowed in a public school. If a teacher thinks that kid isn't getting enough food, they can take it away and make him get a school lunch.

So get off your high horse, folks. The point the article is making is that kids' food habits form young. If school is teaching them to eat pizza every Friday, cheeseburgers every Tuesday, and to get a cookie with every meal then that's what they are learning. It's a lifetime process to unlearn these things, though it can be done. As all of us can attest. No one is saying that this is gets you off the hook for making your own choices. It's telling you to beware what schools and restaurants are teaching you and your kids so you can counteract it. Report
Keep in mind that many schools actually do not ALLOW parents to pack their chldren's lunches - why? Food allergies. Peanut butter sandwiches are pretty much OUT in the district where I live because there's too much of a chance that some kid with an allergy will get a hold of it and then, boom, hospital trip. (You know how kids are - they often trade food items at lunch, or at least I did!)

You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. Report
Yes, I know that individuals are ultimately responsible for their behavior. However, I am quite intelligent. I’m very persistent and I’m fortunate to have many resources available to me. Many others are not as lucky.

Yet, even I am often surprised by the ingredients in my groceries when I finally have time to read them. I’m annoyed at the labels designed to confuse and hide the facts. I resent the fact that I have to continue to carefully monitor labels on items that once were fine and suddenly have changed their ingredients without any warning.

So my wish is that corporations with time, money and resources would HELP us follow a healthy lifestyle and not scatter roadblocks and detours in our path. Perhaps that is too much to ask when profit is the ultimate motive.
don't like the blame game. If you don't like it don't eat there. Schools should be better but there is always the opp to take your lunch too Report
Boy, look at all the self-righteous comments below! Yes, ultimately we as individuals are responsible for what we put into our mouths, but let's not discount the power of carefully researched and thought out marketing influences. We are human and prone to human weaknesses, and the food industry has done considerable research to capitalize on those weaknesses. I know that I do much better with my weight loss when I do not beat myself up -- and part of that is recognizing that my ways of coping are borne out of the influences I had growing up. These habits are hard to break, which is a big part of why so many of us are obese -- not because we're unmotivated, lazy, undisciplined slobs, which is what is suggested when articles such as this one are dissed. I only wish this article were better written and included references to some of the studies done. Report

About The Author

Mike Kramer
Mike Kramer
As a writer and artist, Mike has witnessed countless motivational stories and techniques. See all of Mike's articles.