Thursday, September 16, 2010

The, "but parents can just say no" argument.

An emailer to me hit it hard on the nail yesterday. They wrote,
"To change public attitudes about food for kids, the idea that feeding fast food to kids is "normal" has got to be changed."
I think it's the normalization of feeding fast and junk foods to kids that fuels the, "parents can just say no" argument regularly used to defend things like ice-cream sandwich days at elementary schools, McDonald's bus safety days for 4 year olds, school bake sales, pizza days, etc.

Basically anytime somebody suggests that giving junk foods to kids is a bad plan, there's an angry commenter out there who has to point out that parents don't have to give in.

There's really no beating around the bush about this one, it's an asinine argument.

It's asinine for a number of reasons.

Firstly it's asinine because there's a huge percentage of parents who either don't care about, don't think about, or don't have time to pay attention to the notion that what their children eat has an impact on their health, so while it may be something the angry commenter thinks should and could happen, the reality is that for a huge number of families it just ain't gonna.

Secondly it's asinine because it ignores the bigger picture. Children aren't only influenced by their parents. If their school makes take-out a pizza a weekly event, regardless of whether a child eats it or not, it normalizes the practice. Worse, because it's promoted by a source of trust and guidance, the practice may well be perceived as harmless or even healthy.

Thirdly it's asinine because even parents who care, aren't likely to always or potentially ever say "no". Why? Don't they care about their kids? Sure they do. Problem is that in the grand scheme of parental "no"s, not allowing their child to enjoy what every other kid in the class is enjoying isn't likely a battle that even health conscious parents are likely to regularly pick.

Lastly it's asinine because it ignores the real villains in these stories. The bad guys here aren't permissive parents, and believe it or not, the bad guys aren't the fast or junk food industries either. The real bad guys in these stories are the schools, and hospitals, and city officials who welcome this crap through their doors with open arms.

Yes, junk food is everywhere. Yes, our children are bound to be exposed. Yes, we as parents have to do our best to help arm our kids with defenses to see through advertising and to understand nutrition.

But what shouldn't we have to do?

We shouldn't have to wage these wars in our children's schools, or in our hospitals, or in our city arenas. We shouldn't have situations where foods that our teachers, our doctors and our public health officials recommend we avoid get sold in their own backyards.

Bad nutrition kills, and in a sense, with obesity as a consequence and with the impact of obesity on quality of life, it maims, and while I don't think junk food can or even should be legislated out of existence, I think becoming an apologist for the fast food industry and a defender of nutritionally indefensible publicly run junk food programs on the basis of the, "parents can just say no" argument, is a far more egregious avoidance of parental responsibility than letting your kids join their classmates for a slice of pizza or take a McDonald's colouring book home from Ottawa School Bus Safety Awareness day.