Are You Part of the Junk Food Industry’s Unpaid Army?

By Yoni Freedhoff

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff is an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Ottawa. A renowned obesity expert, Dr. Freedhoff writes regularly on issues of health, weight management, nutrition, patient advocacy and fitness for a variety of publications including US News and World Report, Psychology Today, and The Huffington Post, as well as daily on his award winning blog Weighty Matters. Dr. Freedhoff will speak at the upcoming UVM Food Systems Summit on June 27. In anticipation, we asked him to share his thoughts on a nutritional issue that means a lot to him.

I’m the father of 3 little girls. And it seems no matter where they go, no matter what they do, no matter who is taking care of them, someone other than me or my wife is offering them junk food.

Whether it’s on the sports field after they’ve bent seemingly single blades of grass, in the library going to take out books, at their school club meetings, their friends’  houses, or their great-grandmother’s nursing home, there simply isn’t an occasion too small to not be christened with sugar.

Valentine’s Day has become the new Halloween, Thursdays have been replaced with Pizzadays, and candy has become everyone’s go-to plan to pacify, entertain, reward, bribe, and just plain gorge my kids.

And the worst part of it all? Our children’s junk food purveyors don’t even realize it’s happening. The inclusion of junk food in the fabric of daily child life has become so normalized in modern day society that its pushers often don’t even realize they’re members of the food industry’s unpaid army – an army that furthers junk food’s reach, ups its emotional ante, and often sweetly poisons and undermines a parent’s best efforts at minimizing their children’s consumption of, and relationship with, junk. Worse, the normalization is so complete that questioning this insane status quo often leads to anger from the sugar soldiers. “But it’s just one,” they say.

If only that were true. Sadly “it’s just one” happens sometimes multiple times a day and often dozens of times a week.

So the next time you want to shake your fist at the food industry for their predatory advertising targeting your children – a fist that undoubtedly will be shaken in vain – consider shaking your fist, gently, at the world around you, because your children’s most frequent sugar pushers are likely folks who actually care about them, and maybe, just maybe, if you chat kindly with them, they’ll change.

And if you’re an unquestioning pusher yourself maybe it’s worth a reminder that while it’s a parent’s prerogative to give their children candy, it’s their parents’ prerogative, not yours.

Posted in: Economic, Health, Social.

2 Responses to Are You Part of the Junk Food Industry’s Unpaid Army?

  1. Stacy says:

    Yesterday, my 5-year-old twins had an ice cream cone, cupcake, cookies and candy–all provided to them at school and/or school-sponsored events. Thank you, Yoni Freedhoff, for bringing attention to this problem. I, too, am fed up with my kids being shoveled full of junk!

  2. Marie Hughes says:

    I think part of the problem is that eating like this has become the norm to the point that parents who are trying not to eat this stuff talk about “having” to have junk food in the house because “the rest of the family isn’t on a diet” and so they shouldn’t be “punished.” Because, apparently, it’s punishing your kids to not feed them soda and chips and cookies every damn day.

    Maybe I’m just grumpy and old, but when I was growing up those kinds of foods were rare treats not every day food, and I didn’t think my family was punishing me by limiting my access to junk food. So I don’t buy them and I don’t think I’m punishing my family because that stuff isn’t in the house. Especially, as you note, they get plenty of that crap when they leave the house.

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