Sunday, September 18, 2011

Parents Must Encourage Healthier Fast Food Menu Choices (July 28, 2011)

   Fast-food chains across the nation recently announced a few changes that most children will probably not eagerly welcome. Those compact meals — typically consisting of a junior cheeseburger, French fries and a small, but calorie-laden soda — kids have grown to crave in their brief lives, might soon have healthier competition on the menu.
Nevertheless, it’s a shrewd marketing strategy since the Center for Disease Control reports that almost one out of five children, ages six through 11, are obese.
When more nutritional choices, such as veggies and fruits and other wholesome foods, replace high-calorie, salt-laden and excess sugar ingredients, healthy fast food may soon be referred to as an Unhappy Meal by children who aren’t pleased about the new options.
In a business where nutrition is almost non-existent, doesn’t healthy fast food qualify as an oxymoron?
As part of a Kids Live Well campaign developed by the National Restaurant Association, thousands of participating members, including 19 fast food outlets, have pledged to be part of the solution to reduce the problem of childhood obesity. (McDonald’s is notably not part of the campaign since a spokesperson told the media they “already offer” balanced menu options.) Those eateries will offer at least one children’s meal under 600 calories with such choices as fruits, vegetables, lean protein or whole grains, instead of fries and sweet soft drinks. Some experts are skeptical and consider the campaign a public relations gimmick in an effort to instigate changes before the government forces them to. Regardless, it is a sensible decision. Although, it remains to be seen whether or not the fast food alternatives can break the unshakable bad eating habits that have long been part of the standard American diet.
It’s no secret that too many Americans are overweight. Walk down any street and it’s evident. Take a shower or bath and look in the mirror when you step out of the tub and you, too, maybe realize you’re in that category.
Of course, fast food is not entirely to blame, but with healthier choices in restaurants, maybe consumers will learn to serve healthier foods at home.
For years, nutritionists and sensible parents have tried to wean the nation’s youngest citizens off fast foods. But, price, rather than health, seems to have trumped the list for economically-strapped families who turn to convenient fast food eateries. Even at home, they serve less nutritious foods that tend to be more economical by the bulk than fresh fruits and vegetables. Healthier foods usually cost more since they are not as widely produced, but, over a lifetime, the difference is irrelevant compared to the various medical problems that stem from obesity — cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, to name a few.
Some advocates for healthier diets have even suggested levying taxes on foods that are not nutritionally beneficial since higher prices could reduce their consumption and generate billions of dollars.
In turn, that revenue could subsidize the purchase of staple foods like vegetables, whole grains, and fruit.
However, no matter what the government, food manufacturers and restaurants do to offer healthier choices, it remains the responsibility of parents and consumers to incorporate more nutritional diets for themselves and their children.
In addition to dietary changes, health experts regularly remind the public that exercise is also paramount to combating obesity. That means that besides children and teenagers exercising thumbs and fingers by tweeting, text messaging and Internet surfing, physical activities are essential to prevent weight problems before they reach adulthood.
Even though fries and sugary soft drinks will likely continue to dominate fast food menus, parents must face that challenge that’s so tempting to youngsters and convince them to improve their quality of life by choosing healthier items.
There are millions of stories about overweight Americans and our bad eating habits — this has been one of them.