Junk Food and Obesity in Children


There is an alarming rise in childhood obesity throughout the United States, making it an epidemic in this country. Over the past thirty years obesity has continued to increase and become a threat to the health of many children. Since the 1970s’ obesity has doubled in children from ages of 2-5, and young adults between the ages of 12 and 19. The most significant increase is seen between the ages of 6-11 where the numbers have tripled; approximately 9 million children over the age of six are obese.

Obesity is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “increase body weight due to excessive accumulation of body fat”, though that concept is continually being refined. In humans, the current measurement of obesity is the body mass index (BMI). A person with a BMI over 25 is considered overweight; a BMI over 30 is considered obese. The American Institute for Cancer Research considers a BMI between 18. 5 and 25 to be an ideal target for a healthy individual (although several sources consider a person with a BMI of less than 20 to be underweight).

The term “junk food” that will also be discussed in this paper refers to any food that is high in calories, fat, salt, and sugar without bringing any nutritional value to the table. According to the editorial “Junk it”, published on The San Diego Union-Tribune on March 10th 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is unequivocal on his fight for healthier food for students in public schools. Nowadays obesity threatens to overtake tobacco as the number one cause of death in America. Governor Schwarzenegger made the right decision to terminate obesity in children by eliminating junk food in the public school system.

Okay, terminate may be a little too overzealous, since the causes of obesity are rooted in the home and in the genes of each kid, but at least if the school districts listen to the Governor, they will be doing their part by not giving children the opportunity to put unnecessary sugars and fats in their bodies at crucial stages of their physical development. An article published in Health Source Consumer Edition pointed out, “In a perfect world kids would eat all their fresh and raw vegetables, turn their ose up to sugary drinks and desserts and spend all their free time in a physical activity conductive to building healthy bodies and strong character” (Miller 2003). However, this is not a perfect world and children do not choose vegetables over sugary treats. Until parents stop allowing their kids to graze from a pantry full of food from isle-ends in grocery stores and turn off the TVs, computers and video games, obesity will continue to be an epidemic. It is not the responsibility of schools alone to teach children how to eat properly.

But does having full access to vending machines full of sugary drinks and fat-soaked snacks help the cause? Absolutely not! Opponents of banning junk foods from schools will say that teachers are not parents, which is true, and therefore should not be responsible for what children eat. But teachers are more like babysitters. They are granted with the great responsibility of taking care of someone else’s children. Most parents would not allow their babysitter to feed their children a greasy cheeseburger with fries, washed down with a 20-ounce soda, followed by a sugary treat for dessert, day after day after day, for nine months a year.

So what harm would be done if we pulled artery-clogging food from the school system and replaced it with healthy food, such as fruits and vegetables, as the Governor insists? That answer is no harm at all, and maybe even something good may come out of it. Now let’s look at the alternative, leave the junk food for the purpose of arranging lucrative contracts with the junk food empires. Apparently with this being a huge problem, why do parents, teachers, school administrators and the public allow this to continue to happen and destroy our children?

The most common response from school boards and administrators is: money. Is that really the right thing to do? Make our children fatter so we can pull in some profits? Schools are for learning, not making money. According to Michael Jacobson, “Schools say they need to sell junk food to raise money for everything from books to sports equipment. But is it smart to fund one percent or so of our schools’ budget at the expense of our children’s health? ” Granted, budgets are tight right now and money is always an issue, but don’t knowingly feed “junk” to children for the purpose of making money. Interestingly, a study last year in Arizona showed that schools that made healthy changes to their snack bars and vending machines saw ‘no negative financial impacts’”(Junk it). It is clear that administration and teachers don’t seem to be concerned of how unhealthy many cafeteria lunches really are, and even if they are, they have alternatives to these lunches. Faculty members have the option of leaving to get lunch, or ordering in, so lunch time isn’t usually problem for them.

Unfortunately, schools aren’t looking into the long term effects, or how important it is for children to have healthy lunches; not only for the health of the child, but healthy foods are what increase the child’s awareness and ability to do their best. When schools are conducting standardized tests, they request that the students eat a good meal beforehand, which includes breakfast and lunch, to get them moving and focused. Sugar and candy isn’t what is expected for these meals. A healthy meal for “brain food” is what they want students to have, but yet they don’t offer that at lunch. Children who become addicted to junk food actually stop eating nutritious food they need to grow up healthy. And the current epidemic of childhood obesity is only the tip of the iceberg. Kids that live on fats and sugars have shorter attention spans, growth problems, and suffer from tooth decay and weak bone structure in early life (weightlossforall. com). ” Make no mistake; the transition from junk food to healthy food can and needs to be made. With so many medical and scholarly statistics showing the consequences, it is confusing why schools continue to serve vending machines filled with unacceptable snacks?

While all schools need money, and there are measures that need to be taken, things are going too extreme. It’s important to raise money to help support programs, sports, and technology advances; however commercializing school is not the best answer, although some school administrators seem to disagree. “Amazingly, many school administrators lured by the promise of easy money for their strapped budgets are fueling the obesity epidemic by selling junk food” (Jacobson). Many schools have contracts with large companies such as Coca-Cola.

While this doesn’t seem like a huge problem, because these contracts help provide funding for sports and extra programs, they aren’t looking at the effect on the actual student. This makes it harder for schools to stop selling junk food, because “money certainly speaks louder then health” (Miller). There are other ways to raise money and other products to promote through the school that could easily bring in money as well. The commercializing of schools isn’t the main problem, it is just that the companies willing to offer schools the most happen to be the ones that schools should do without.

Studies show that it is not just a sip of pop that parents should be concerned about, but what their child’s daily consumption adds up to. “The facts also show that 25 percent of caloric intake, or over 500 calories of a normal diet, are completely derived from sugar. Just one regular soda contains about 150 calories and one a day for a year is worth 15 extra pounds each year” (Miller). Numbers and studies like this should turn heads of the school board and the administrators. Very few people would intentionally allow themselves to gain fifteen pounds from something that can easily be replaced with another drink that is just as refreshing.

In addition, people who eat junk food on a regular basis are at risk of contracting Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and several other illnesses that lead to heart attacks, strokes, organ failure, and death. In fact, almost twice as many people die each year of heart disease caused by diet-related obesity and cardiovascular problems, than die of cancer. Like any other addiction, the ravages of junk food become increasingly apparent on and within our bodies as we age.

There is still time to break this addiction, though the best solution is to avoid it to begin with. In conclusion, ridding schools of junk food alone is not going to solve the obesity problem. Nutritional health starts at home. Parents, like teachers, or maybe more so, are responsible for their children eating habits and enforcing them. Of course if you give a child a choice between a cheeseburger as snack or an apple they will take the cheeseburger. Children do not choose to be obese; however it is their unawareness that leads them there. Parents be parents! It is your responsibility to make the right choices when your children can’t. Do not take the “junk food” easy way out. Down the road who knows how much it could cost you.