The New York Times article about kids and the Lure of Forbidden Food has generated a great deal of discussion in the food blogger world. As usual, much of it focused on how parents can do a better job feeding kids. Maryann Jacobsen had a good post about it and our back and forth in the comments section led me to ask, “What if the problem isn’t really the parents?”
I’ll use the analogy of a balance beam to represent parents helping their children navigate the food world. We coach our kids on how to cross the beam safely without falling off into obesity or eating disorders. When I was growing up in the 1970’s, the beams were fairly wide and it didn’t take much coaching. Some beams were wider than others due to socioeconomics and food access. Some children had better balance due to genetics but most made it across because the beams were wide enough. Those that fell off were the exception and not the norm.
Today we see more and more kids falling off and parents working harder and harder to coach them across. I have seen some incredible coaches who have wonderful blogs to help other parents with their children. What I don’t see is enough recognition that the widths of the beams have shrunk considerably over the past few decades. Much of that is due the the food industry and their marketing of junk food to kids.
Girls especially face a double whammy with advertising to make them crave both junk food and an unrealistic thin ideal. Even those of us who give our kids little to no junk food have to worry about the billions of dollars spent on food marketing aimed at making them feel deprived if they don’t have a lot.
Finding that balance between deprivation and junk food overload is getting tougher and tougher for parents to navigate. We are seeing this with rising rates of both obesity and eating disorders. Instead of putting all the blame on parents when children fall off the beam, why aren’t we looking at how much the degree of difficulty has increased and the reasons for it?
As Patrick Mustain summed it up in a tweet about this interview, “Too much focus on healthy choices, not enough on changing environment/culture.”
I’ve had it with parents getting all the blame and am counting down the days until May 9th. That’s the release date for the new documentary Fed Up from producers Katie Couric and Laurie David about the country’s food industry. Watching the trailer gives me hope that the film will encourage more parents to push back against the food industry and say FU. Or as John Oliver put it in response to the Pop Tarts ad, “F*#% You!”
(Both videos are below)