ENGL 1302: COMPOSITION AND RHETORIC II
In his analysis of the social problem of childhood obesity, Jantzen Miller divides his presentation into the following logical sections: (1) What is the problem and how is it a social problem? (2) What are some primary causes of the problem? (3) What are some strengths and weaknesses of previous attempts at a solution? (4) What is (your) approach to the problem in view of previous ones? (5) Anticipate at least two objections to your approach. (6) Respond to the objections. (7) Conclusion. His use of this logical structure makes the presentation user-friendly. Citing sources in MLA style to bolster his observations and arguments, Jantzen presents a thoughtful and logical analysis of this continuing social problem.
Before the 21st century, if you asked the average American what they thought a “food problem” was, the majority would most likely suggest problems such as famine, being too impoverished to afford food, or simple crop failure. The common strain between all of these food problems is the fact that, whatever the cause may be, there is far too little of it. As a result of the countless varieties of cheap, easily accessible unhealthy food in America, our problem is not that we have far too little of it, but in reality, that we have far too much of it. This problem victimizes children before they are even old enough to make their own educated decisions about their food consumption. This problem is known as childhood obesity, and in our modern world, one in five children is affected by it due to their overly calorific diets, causing or exacerbating countless maladies such as sleep apnea, diabetes, and heart disease (“Childhood Obesity”). Unlike how adult obesity can be blamed on personal choices, a child’s diet is manipulated by their parents and the American culture that they live in, making it one of the most important social problems of our time, to the point that it is now considered an epidemic.
First, a firm understanding of the causes of childhood obesity will serve well for further discussion on possible solutions to the issue. The causes can be summarized as being of three types: one, the biological mechanisms that cause the issue, from which the two other causes, those from parenting and those from American culture, can be interpreted. Biologically, the two commonly cited causes of the issue are overly calorific diets applied to children who don’t exercise enough to burn off what they eat, causing the excess calories to be stored as fat deposits on the body, and obesity spurred on by hormonal or genetic issues. However, research suggests that in 90% of cases, the first cause is what is responsible for the condition (“Childhood Obesity”).
Zooming further out, parents can also cause the issue due to the responsibility placed on them as parents. Parents act as role models with their own diets, and so children tend to eat diets highly similar to that of their parents. Additionally, parents control the majority of the food that goes in and out of the house, the place children spend most of their time, sometimes resulting in an excess of unhealthy choices, and few possible healthy options. For example, a parent’s habit of drinking soda is reflected in their children, whether this is through role modeling or it simply being the most available option in the household (Barna).
On the highest level, America has generated its own “food culture” that influences the food choices of Americans, including those of children. In America, it is common to see “body shaming,” or the promotion of an unhealthily low-calorie diet and lifestyle, coexist with the promotion of unhealthy fast food, both of which can have an impact on parents and children. For example, targeted fast food advertising attempts are often made towards children, which can cause them to eat unhealthy food (Linn and Novosat 147). The extent of the issue is made clear by the ten to fifteen billion dollars that food and beverage advertisers spend in order to target youth (Linn and Novosat 147).
In order to solve this issue, several different possible solutions have been proposed at each level, biological, parental, and cultural. The most common of these is on the biological and parental level, focusing on forming healthy diet and exercise habits in order to reduce the total consumption of calories to an acceptable level for health. While this approach is undeniably beneficial when properly performed, there are several downfalls to the common approach that can make it very difficult for a family that is just starting to work on getting to a baseline level of health to be able to stick with a proper regimen. Another common type of marketed food is “diet food,” which usually come in the form of low-calorie, individually packaged meals for managing portion sizes. However, these meals are often just as calorie-dense as other food a dieter may eat, but with smaller portion sizes (Foreman 128-129). As a result, diet foods can leave a dieter unsatisfied, coaxing them into breaking their healthy eating habits (Foreman 128-129). Exercise is also commonly overly stressed with this approach, but even strenuous exercise makes up a surprisingly low factor in the “energy equation.” For example, running a whole mile burns only about 125 calories, progress that is far too easily destroyed by eating a single candy bar (Haymes and Byrnes).
Approaches to childhood obesity have also been considered and attempted at the cultural and social level. One of these includes the banning of fast food advertising targeted at children, and another approach that has been tried is the taxing of sugary drinks. For example, New York introduced a penny-per-ounce tax on soda drinks (Saletan 168). In many European countries, advertising to children is heavily regulated (Linn and Novosat 149). As for food advertising, this approach misses the fact that parents, not children, in most cases, are the ones buying fast food, so efforts would likely be better focused by attempting to educate parents and children. However, this approach can be effective for teens, who often make some food choices on their own given the fact that they have more of their own money to spend. As for the taxing of sugary drinks, while sugary drinks are a great thing to cut out of a diet because they are simultaneously calorific and not filling, this approach makes the false equivalence that higher prices on these goods results in fewer purchases of them. An important point against this method is how cheap to produce most soda drinks are, such as Coke and Dr Pepper, costing only 99 cents at most grocery stores for a 2-liter bottle, and costing only pennies to manufacture (Mooney). Clearly, even with an additional tax levied on these drinks, they will remain far too affordable to reduce consumer purchases by much. Most importantly, however, both proposed social solutions miss the opportunity to explicitly educate parents and children, instead relying primarily upon subversive techniques in order to get people to “get it.”
In contrast to the weaknesses of each of these proposals, I would highly suggest some combination of the two, attempting to engage in healthy eating habits and educating parents and children on the issue at hand, while cutting out on the extraneous details that make it difficult to narrow in on the healthy habits that really matter. Diet culture often makes the presumption that their busy target audience will have all the time in the world to dedicate itself to countless sources prescribing a specific blend of vitamins and minerals, proper hydration, and alkaline water to achieve its promised goals. Also, the obsession with dieting and weight loss can be unhealthy, even leading to eating disorders (Kausman).
However, these details are often abstract dietary concepts that dieters looking to first reduce their weight to healthy levels shouldn’t need to worry about, especially children. Thus, on a social and cultural level, education about healthy diets could focus on the foods that matter most when it comes to calorie input. Many families fail to realize that most of their calories probably come from only a few sources, with a tablespoon of butter and oil containing 100 calories, a can of cola containing 150 or more, and there are 200 calories in a cup of pasta or other grains. This is in contrast to most fruits and vegetables, with a large orange having only 60 calories and an entire cup of broccoli containing only 30. Therefore, giving your family just a few less tablespoons of butter and one less can of soda can make all the difference, with the knowledge that eating fruits and vegetables in mass is perfectly acceptable to stave off hunger. In this way, my approach would allow education on the cultural level to allow parents to make better decisions about the food they purchase and prepare in the home, allowing both wider approaches to directly funnel into ending the biological cause of childhood obesity.
Nevertheless, there are several understandable concerns that could be brought up about my proposed solution, founded in the more obvious reasons that families do not eat healthy food. First, it could be argued that it is not the calorie dense food that is the major issue, but it becomes one based on the simple reality of hunger, and it is hard to get children to eat their vegetables. Secondly, it could be pointed out that I have assumed that parents will be mostly feeding their children home cooked meals and not the often-true reality that children will instead be consuming fast food and unhealthy frozen or prepared meals.
While both are perfectly valid issues, just like misinformation about the fundamentals of a good diet, these issues are derived from misinformation about food, and could easily be cleared up the same way that my approach intends to do so: education. In the case of kids not eating their vegetables, it is often the case that this aversion is because children never experience properly prepared vegetables, assuming that cold and raw is the only way to experience them. There are multiple cooking methods for vegetables that can add little or no calories to them that can make them enjoyable. While one common diet cliché is that broccoli is the enemy of all children, when it is steamed and has spices added to it, it becomes a much easier and more enjoyable to consume. As for the lack of home cooked meals, this is usually due to the conception that cooking is something esoteric and difficult, something that requires tons of time outside of a parent’s busy life to perform. However, there exist bountiful recipes on the Internet that allow for a person to simply dump ingredients in a pan or a crock pot and come back to a delicious home cooked meal. In summary, both problems could be cleared up with proper food education.
Unquestionably, the pervasiveness of childhood obesity is certainly a terrifying prospect that America will have to grapple with in the coming years. However, a growing problem within the discussion of the issue is the flurry of unfocused, overly complicated solutions often proposed to fix the issue. A much more simplistic solution could be undertaken, allowing for busy families to take the fullest advantage of the simple but well-crafted education that is given, allowing for American society to blossom into a much healthier version of itself.
Barna, Mark. “Parents serve as role models on soda.” The Nation’s Health, Feb.-Mar. 2019, p. 4. Opposing Viewpoints in Context.
“Childhood Obesity.” Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2019. Opposing Viewpoints in Context.
Foreman, Judy. “Dieting and Exercise are Largely Ineffective.” Obesity, edited by Scott Barbour, Greenhaven Press, 2011, pp. 127-132. Opposing Viewpoints.
Haymes, E. M. and W. C. Byrnes (1993). “Walking and running energy expenditure estimated by Caltrac and indirect calorimetry.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 25(12): 1365-1369.
Kausman, Rick. “The Public’s Obsession with Weight Loss and Thinness is Harmful.” Obesity, edited by Sylvia Engdahl, Greenhaven Press, 2015. Opposing Viewpoints.
Linn, Susan and Courtney L. Novosat. “Regulating Food Advertising to Children Will Reduce Obesity.” Obesity, edited by Scott Barbour, Greenhaven Press, 2011, pp. 147-155. Opposing Viewpoints.
Mooney, Phil. The 5 Cent Coke. The Coca-Cola Company, 2008.
Saletan, William. “Taxing Sugary Drinks Will Not Reduce Obesity.” Obesity, edited by Scott Barbour, Greenhaven Press, 2011, pp. 167-170. Opposing Viewpoints.