Jazlyn Bradley, at the age of 19 years old, weighed 270 pounds and was 5-foot-6. Her daily diet consisted of an Egg McMuffin in the morning and a Big Mac meal super-sized with an apple pie in the evening. Her friend, Ashley Pelman, at age 14, weighed 170 pounds and was mere 4-foot-10. She preferred a Happy Meal because she liked the prizes. These two teenagers filed a lawsuit against the McDonald’s Corporation in 2002, as well as the two Bronx franchises they ate at for damages related to their obesity because the restaurants did not provide nutritional information about the health risks associated with its meals. Ms. Bradley’s father, Israel, said in an affidavit, ”I always believed McDonald’s was healthy for my children.” McDonald’s lawyers argued that “it would be impossible to establish whether eating at McDonald’s was a major cause of the girls’ ailments. Genetics, medical conditions and sedentary lifestyles could also be factors,” they said (www.nytimes.com). The lawyers’ representing McDonald’s have a legitimate argument against the plaintiffs’ claim because studies have proven that consuming sodas loaded with sugar, eating high-calorie larger portion sized meals, along with a steady decline in physical activity are all contributing factors in the increased numbers of obesity around the world (Childhood obesity, Prevalence and Prevention). And, of course, common sense should speak for itself.
David Zinczenko, editorial director for Women’s Health magazine responded to this lawsuit in his article “Don’t Blame the Eater,” published in the New York Times shortly thereafter. He could relate to these teens because he was also an obese teen as a result of a daily fast-food diet. He explained how he was raised by a single mother that worked long hours and left him to fend for himself daily for lunch and dinner, eating at one of four different local fast-food restaurants of his choice. By the time he reached the age of fifteen, he was 5-foot-10 and weighed 212 pounds. He stated that the fast-food industry was to blame for the rise of teen obesity and they need to assume responsibility (462-463). Zinczenko noted that many diseases have been linked to obesity. Prior to 1994, about 5 percent of juvenile diabetes was Type 2, obesity-related. He mentioned that according to the National Institute of Health, those numbers have skyrocketed to about 30 percent of juvenile Type 2 diabetes in this country. As a result, this has caused the cost of healthcare to soar to billions of dollars for treatment, as opposed to what it was in 1969, then costing $2.6 million a year for treatment (463). Obesity has become an American epidemic, especially among teens, and is a concern that needs to be addressed. But who’s responsibility is it?
Though I concede that Zinczenko has a valid argument against the fast-food industry needing to take responsibility and provide accurate warning labels on the foods they serve, ultimately, I feel the responsibility should be directed towards the parents. Even if parents work long hours and their children are latchkey kids, as Zinczenko states he was, I feel that it is the parents’ obligation to monitor what their children eat on a daily basis, providing healthy food options. I have always worked full time, and there were many nights I was so tired after a long day, the mere thought of coming home and cooking a meal for my family was the last thing I wanted to do. It was much easier to stop at a local fast-food restaurant and pick up dinner that was already prepared. But that was only on a few occasions. So I can relate on a personal level with Zinczenko’s mother having to work long hours every day. I can empathize with her being a single parent and the sole provider for her and her son, that she was too exhausted when she got home after a long day at work to cook dinner and possibly it was already past dinner time. (He didn’t specify.) Speaking as a parent, I don’t think it was the best option for his mom to allow her teen son to eat lunch and dinner at the fast-food restaurant of his choice every day just because she worked long hours. I’m not saying to never allow your teen to eat out, it should just be limited. She could have very easily stocked the fridge and pantry with food staples that were easy to prepare for a teen, or even have prepared foods readily available for that matter. And what about the father of the teen that sued McDonald’s? Did he honestly believe that a daily diet consisting of a super-sized Big Mac hamburger meal along with a deep fried apple pie for dessert was nutritious? According to Mc Donald’s online calculator, her daily meal, not including the apple pie equates to 1860 calories, 75 grams of fat and 248 grams of carbohydrates (www.mcdonalds.com). Even if nutritional facts are not available, it’s just common sense to know a meal like that is not healthy.
Zinczenco mentioned that he lost his excess weight after he started college, joined the Navy Reserves and became involved in a health magazine; he said he got lucky (463). Was it luck, or was it the fact that he was eating healthier and exercising. I feel he contradicts himself by stating that the fast-food industry is to blame for the obesity epidemic even though he agrees that eating an excess amount of fast-food will cause weight gain. Does this make it the fault of the fast-food industry? Yes, and no. It is a business, and they are in it for the profit. I do agree that there should be an accountability on their part to make nutrition facts available to the public. But on the other hand, where is the common sense? Even Benjamin Franklin knew this to be true in one of his famous quotes, ”To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals,” (Notable Quotes).
As for the lawsuit involving the two teen girls that sued Mc Donald’s Restaurant, the judge did not hold the restaurant chain responsible and the case was dismissed in 2003. However, the girls were allowed to file an amendment a month later to address the concerns that eating fast-food could cause obesity and other health-related problems. They indicated that they were content with that ruling (www.nytimes.com). To most people, this would seem to be just another frivolous lawsuit, and quite possibly, that is correct. But some good did come out of this lawsuit. It has raised awareness among consumers how eating a diet consisting of high fat and high calorie foods can contribute to excess weight gain, as well as potentially causing other health issues. Also, it has made the fast-food industry more accountable to providing nutrition facts to the public, as well as many of the fast-food restaurants no provide lighter, more nutritious options. I like that I can order a healthy salad with light dressing as opposed to a high fat, high calorie burger.
There is no disputing that there is an obesity problem in this country. Just take a look around. But could the obesity epidemic be caused by just eating fast-food? The answer is no. Part of the problem with obesity is being sedentary. As I mentioned before, when Zinczenco joined the Navy Reserves, he learned to manage his weight (463). It was the daily exercise and a balanced diet that worked for him. According to a recent report from the American Heart association, “Nearly 78 million adults and 13 million children in the United States deal with the health and emotional effects of obesity every day. The solution to their problem sounds deceptively simple — take in fewer calories a day, while cranking up the calorie-burning process with regular exercise,” (Understanding American Obesity). Those are some staggering figures. But, the solution is an easy one; eat less and move more. Seems simple enough, right? Stated in this same report, “environmental factors, lifestyle preferences, and cultural environment play pivotal roles in the rising prevalence of obesity worldwide.” Ultimately, these are a lot of different factors to take into account.
Everyone is different, and it is imprudent to assume that everyone will lose weight if they follow the simple rule of eating less and become more active. I know a lot of people that struggle with the battle of the bulge. They can do all the right things, and still not lose the weight due to different metabolisms. For instance, a person that suffers from Cushing’s syndrome or has an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) has a slow metabolism and has a problem with gaining weight (Metabolism and Weight Loss).
So again I ask the question, whose responsibility is it anyway? It is not just one person. Primarily, parents need to be responsible in making sure they provide proper nutritious foods for their children. Educators also have an obligation to teach nutrition to their students. School cafeterias and the fast-food industry have an obligation to provide healthier food options and make nutrition facts readily available. It is now required by law for the calorie content of each item on fast-food restaurants menu board (US Food and Drug). But, what about those who fall in the low-income bracket? Is it cheaper to purchase a value-meal at McDonald’s? Some think so. But that still adds up fast if done on a daily basis. There are many ways to feed a family nutritious meals on a budget. For those who qualify, there are government programs and government financial-aid available. The WIC program, (Women, Infants and Children) provides assistance in purchasing healthy foods, as well as teaching nutrition to parents (USDA Nutrition Services). And for those of us who are the working middle class, there are ways to be thrifty and still provide healthy options. I have a friend that has five children and is a stay-at-home mom. She cuts coupons and finds great deals in the weekly store ads. She is a wise shopper and proves that it can be done with a little time and and effort.
So what can be done about the problem of obesity? Donna Ryan, M.D has a few suggestions that can help. She recommends keeping a food diary, eat foods that are filling and high in fiber, avoid stocking pantry and fridge with tempting foods, and avoid high carbohydrate foods that can produce mild reactive hypoglycemia. To help people resist hunger signals, Ryan also recommends stress management along with improved sleep, hygiene and social support. And lastly, she says in regards to the role of exercise in obesity management, “Diet is most important in losing weight, exercise is most important in keeping it off.” Donna Ryan, M.D., co-chair of the committee that wrote the recent obesity guidelines and professor emerita at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge (Understanding American Obesity).
It takes an effort to fight obesity, but the pay off is worth it.
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“Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).” Food and Nutrition Service, http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/women-infants-and-children-wic. Accessed 26 June 2017.
Zinczenko, David “Don’t Blame the Eater”. They Say, I Say with Readings. 3rd ed, edited by Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, Russel Durst pp. 462-465
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