Suzy Ali AP EnglishThe Kew Forest School January 12, 2018Who should carry the weight? The second leading preventable killer, obesity accounts for over a quarter million deaths yearly. With the rise of factory farming and processed foods, obesity has become an American epidemic. It afflicts 35% of men and about 40% of women in America and is increasing rapidly, especially in children. In fact, 50% of black and Latino children born in 2000 will become diabetic unless they start exercising (Engler, 173). Unfortunately, these scary statistics are not going away anytime soon until we actively make a change. However, before establishing any policies, we must identify who is the problem. From the perspective of Radley Balko, in “What you eat is your business”, individuals should be held responsible for their own health and eating choices rather than blaming the food industry. Others such as Yves Engler, author of “Obesity: Much of the responsibility lies with corporations”, deny this idea of individual responsibility, and instead claim that the practices of food corporations have a direct correlation with the obesity epidemic. From my perspective, the industry is predominantly at fault for obesity due to tactics such as food industry lobbying, advertisements, and encouraging larger portion sizes. The government has a duty to protect consumers from disease through restrictions on unhealthy food, and regulation of the fast food industry. However, through lobbying or interest representation, food corporations are compromising that duty. Food chains such as Mcdonald’s and Dunkin Donuts invest millions of dollars each year lobbying government to influence policies on food regulations and health (Engler, 176). For example, a governmental restriction on the amount of fat in a Mcdonald’s cheeseburger would benefit consumer health, but also might reduce its appeal, ultimately reducing Mcdonald’s’ profit. Lobbying government is a way to avoid this possibility, using the lowest but most powerful tool, money. Unfortunately, the profit of industry often comes at the cost of consumers as many policies protecting consumers and regulation of food chains practices were abandoned, due to pressures from food companies. For instance, in 2000, sugar and soft drink producers were successful in influencing the United States Department of agriculture (USDA) to lessen dietary guidelines on sugar (Engler, 176). In addition, although the guidelines advisory committee directly expressed that a healthy diet should be low in red meat and sugar, the recent US food guidelines ignored these suggestions, directly displaying the pressures of food industry lobbying. Both red meat and unhealthy sugar consumption are factors to the onset of obesity and diabetes; therefore through the prioritization of their own profits and industries, food corporations are actively making us more susceptible to disease and frankly more fat.The food industry not only prioritizes wealth over health, it directly exploits the most vulnerable members of our society: children. 1 in 3 American children is either obese or overweight, making them an incredibly susceptible market force for large fast food companies. This exploitation comes in the form of advertisements. Through persistent child-friendly advertisements and marketing, food companies such as Mcdonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, and Taco Bell, known for their unhealthy food choices, are able to exert massive influence over children. Some tactics used in advertisements are cartoon characters and toys, which are known to attract children (Engler, 176). According to Engler, “they’ve been very successful with over 93% of UK children believing that Ronald Mcdonald knows what’s best for their health” (176). I, myself believed that the happy meal was a treasure that should be eaten 24/7. Unfortunately, this cannot be taken light-heartedly as this type of brainwashing has left thousands of American children obese and diabetic. Now you might say, “children don’t have paychecks; their food choices are controlled by their parents who can understand the intentions behind advertisements.” While this is true, having been a kid before, I know how great of an influence I could have over my parents. Furthermore, children’s food choices aren’t always controlled by their parents. Fast food ads are able to target children in several places, most predominantly TV, but also schools. For example, “the fast-food and soft drink companies have also been successful at getting their products into cash-strapped schools. In fact, “In Texas, the food giants give $54 million a year to schools to sell their wares in vending machines (Engler, 176). While many schools try to encourage a healthy environment for their students, many economically lacking schools do not. Children, spending a large portion of their lives in schools, can become overweight, and even worse, come to believe that schools genuinely encourage this eating. David Zinczenko, author of “Don’t blame the eater”, brings up an excellent point about advertisements; “unlike Tobacco, advertisements don’t carry warning labels” (463). Child-friendly warning labels could balance this brainwashing by providing children information about what they’re actually consuming and their effects. However, through the present advertisement system, the food industry manipulates children to believe that fast food is great, directly driving the obesity epidemic. A few months ago, I took a trip to my nearby KFC because I was really craving their famous bowl, but there I found something very peculiar. As I stepped to the cashier to buy the bowl, she had asked me “Would you like to buy the meal which comes with the bow, soda, and a cookie? It’s a dollar less!”. I was shocked really, more yummy food for less money? It felt like a prize …”I’ll take it!” As I realized, this was not a prize but a clever trick. Fast food chains are giving consumers an economic incentive to buy more unhealthy food for less money. Buying items separately would not only give you less food, it would be more expensive. Therefore, encouraging larger portion sizes in this way is not only economically advantageous to poorer populations but any consumer who is money conscious when purchasing food. The question is, why would food chains such as Mcdonald’s or Burger King provide more food, for less money? While this may seem counterintuitive in the profit prospect, it actually generates much more money because consumers are more likely to return to the restaurant to buy the cheap items, which ultimately leaves food chains both wealthy and popular. Mcdonald’s dollar menu is an excellent example; by making their items cheap, they can lure their customers in again and again. In fact, “it has been shown that people consume about 30 percent more when served large portions” (175). Unfortunately, not only are consumers eating more food, they’re eating more unhealthy food as the most processed items are the cheapest to produce. Hence, this tactic is very sneaky because it seems as if the food industry is looking out for consumers’ profits; however, consumers falling into this food industry trap will find themselves more unhealthy and more obese. Still, some such as Balko might argue that even through unstrict food measures, misleading advertisements, and an increase in portion sizes, consumers still have the full agency to decide what they’re putting into their bodies. Furthermore, even though the food industry encourages unhealthy options, it does not force you to eat anything. If you want to be healthy, create guidelines of your own. If you want to be healthy, ignore those advertisements, If you want to be healthy, pick the famous bowl instead of the meal. Not only is eating healthily a choice but being obese is also a choice. Choosing to eat more and exercise less is your choice. From Balko’s perspective, to fight obesity, “instead of intervening in the array of food options available consumers, the government ought to be working to foster a sense of responsibility of our own health” (467). In other words, changing the practices of the food industry will not improve obesity rates because consumers are in control of their food choices. It would be ridiculous to argue that nobody is in control of their food choices. The obesity of middle-class and upper-class adult consumers can be credited to personal choice. They are financially stable and mature enough to choose healthier options, but they don’t. This is not the fault of the food industry. However, it is important to note that middle/upper-class consumers make up a small part of the obesity population. When combating obesity, we need to focus on the overwhelming majority: children and the financially unstable, who can easily fall victim to food industry tactics. The issue with Balko’s claim is that he assumes that all groups of people are in control of their food choices and that encouraging personal responsibility is the key to ending obesity. However, children are not responsible for their food choices for a few reasons: due to child-friendly ads, most children are not mature enough to differentiate what is “healthy” or “unhealthy”, and often pressure their parents to give into their unhealthy desires. Sometimes even, a child’s food choices are restricted to their parents and/or schools environment. For instance, if the child belongs to a poor family, he/she will probably end up eating cheap, unhealthy food. This brings us to our second overlooked group. The food choices of the poor are even more restricted due to economic pressures. As much as a poor family would like to eat healthily, they can not afford that luxury. As Will Allen, author of “a Good manifesto for America, says ” in vast urban tracts…people are forced to buy cheaper and lower-quality foods, to forgo fresh fruits and vegetables” (977). While general personal responsibility should be encouraged nonetheless, specifically to middle or upper-class consumers, the solution to fighting obesity begins with restricting the food industry’s most manipulative practices. Now that we’ve established who exactly is the problem, how do we solve it? Despite Balko’s claims, the government and food industry need to intervene. This can begin with the government taking a stronger stance against food industry lobbying and sterner regulations on fast food. There needs to be stricter limits on child-friendly ads and an addition of child-friendly warning labels. In addition, schools should be encouraging an anti-obesity environment with healthy lunches, snacks, and no marketing for fast food. Fast food chains need to emphasize healthier options which would be financially accessible to poor populations, and the government can join the effort by subsidizing or reducing the cost of healthy options and taxing unhealthy food, similar to the tax on cigarettes. Ultimately, until food industry’s exploitive practices come to an end and a real effort is placed to encourage anti-obesity society, obesity rates will keep increasing, and more people will become sick.