The junk food lawsuit

While eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Caffine Free Coke (TM) and chocolate brownie for lunch, I came across a news item on Yahoo! reporting that Nickelodeon and Kellogg were the targets of a lawsuit which cites a “recent report documenting the influence of marketing on what children eat”. You can link to the article here.

This is one of those lack-of-accountability suits like the person who sues McDonalds for gaining weight eating their food. This kind of thing drives me nuts for some reason. It’s a tricky thing to comment on, however, because it deals with obesity, which is a touchy subject for some people. Studies have shown that some people are more genetically prone to weight gain than others. But this is a tendency and while it may require some to be more disciplined than others, the bottom line on law suits like these is still accountability.

It seems to me the whole claim of the argument is that, when it comes to food, kids listen to their TV more than they listen to their parents:

Wakefield, Mass., mother Sherri Carlson said she tries her best to get her three kids to eat healthy food. “But they turn on Nickelodeon and see all those enticing junk-food ads,” Carlson said. “Adding insult to injury, we enter the grocery store and see our beloved Nick characters plastered on all those junky snacks and cereals.”

Correct me if I am wrong, but is this person arguing that her kids are so influenced by these ads, that she, the mother, is simply forced to go out and buy the junk food for her hopelessly influenced kids?

Now, I don’t have kids of my own, but I was once a kid, and sometimes, I like to think I still am a kid. If I begged and pleaded for junk food, and my mom or dad gave into me, the behavior I’d learn from that is that no self-control is required. I can just beg and plead for my junk food, and ultimately, I’ll get my way. My folks will cave in under the enormous pressure that me and my allies in the advertising industry place upon them.

What has happened to accountability in this country?

Maybe the right question to ask is: why are parents going after Nickelodeon and Kellogg? What do they expect to get out of this? I think there are two answers here: (1) publicity and (2) money, not necessarily in that order. This is about more than a parent’s concern for their child’s eating habits. It seems to me that if parents were really concerned, they wouldn’t hire a lawyer, they would instead find creative ways to make healthy snacks more enjoyable for kids. It’s not that hard to do, and you can see the results pretty quickly.

This is a slippery slope. Parents pawn of the responsibility to educate their children about nutrition and health to the very television set which they sit they kids in front of to babysit them. Nickelodeon and Kellogg are not forcing anyone to do anything. Are they putting ideas into kids heads? Sure. Are they putting pressure on parents to buy kids junk foods. Certainly. But who is ultimately responsible for going out and buying that candy bar? I’m not sure anyone could convince me it’s Nickelodeon and Kellogg.

Where does this lead? Will parents soon start suing other parents who allow their children to eat junk food at school because it sets a bad example for their children? This sounds facecious but I’m not kidding. Law suits scare people, and especially institutions like schools. Will schools start to ban junk foods, even in lunches brought by students because they will be afraid of the influence it might have on other students? Will we start to evolve legal definitions for “junk food”?

Unfortunately, things can only get worse with this kind of mentality. We are teaching children that there is no need to think for themselves. There are some smart kids out there. They see that junk food is bad for you in excess. They make the very rational generalization that anything is bad for you in excess. And they grow up to be well-adjusted adults. But not all kids have an equal footing when it comes to critical thinking, so the playing field now has to be leveled to the lowest common denominator. At the very least, let us not be hypocrites. The more we lower the expectations of our kids and ourselves, the less we should expect.

I can see the future now, and it is all gray. No one thinks for themselves, no one questions, no one cares.

If parents really wanted to tackle the obesity problem in this country, they wouldn’t sue a TV station and cereal company. They’d set their jaws, plant their feet, and do what my parents did when I was growing up and wanted to eat junk.

They’d just say No.