Parents must protect against the food environment

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In a recent post, I reacted to writer Morgan Downey’s mockery of a ham-handed suggestion in Puerto Rico to fine parents whose children are obese.  I think the suggestion is not helpful, but I objected to Downey’s giving not even a nod to the fact that parents do have a huge role in how kids learn to eat.

Downey focused his prescription on the food environment, and though we agree on its potency, I would put the onus on parents here, too, in part because in this world, a crucial role for parents is to educate their kids about media excesses — which is to say, “media.”

The way it is today, food companies are allowed to target young children on a variety of platforms, when the American Psychological Association says kids under 8 can’t even distinguish the difference between truth and advertising. Without a whit of hesitation, I liken that to statutory rape — unhealthy, unbidden intrusions into the vulnerable wards we’re supposed to protect until they can make decisions on their own.

In such a world, we are failures if we don’t try at least to undercut those who target our kids, by erecting barriers to them but even more so by teaching our kids to see the sophisticated barbarians who are coming for them.

I’m not saying this is easy. Especially after a child’s first few years, influences outside the home begin to overwhelm parental guidance in many spheres, but perhaps nowhere more than regarding food. But in the child-protection racket, is ease of success the standard we’re going to follow?

(Tomorrow: What are the options?)


Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
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