Junk Food Wars

The war on junk food, make no mistake about it, is also the war on obesity. Because junk food is the primary source of calories for American children these days. It’s cookies, cakes, pizza, and sweetened drinks. It’s the potato chips and French fries that make up half of all the vegetables kids eat. It’s low in essential nutrients and high in salt, sugar, and refined carbohydrates.All fast food is not necessarily junk food, but too much of it is–nutrient poor and calorie rich, industrially processed with the myriad of laboratory chemicals that are tinkering with our own human chemistry in ways we’re only beginning to discover.

We can’t eliminate all junk food. We probably wouldn’t want to if we could. But we’d better start fighting back on its place and prominence in the American diet. Childhood obesity rates have tripled in one generation. Without significant change the future doesn’t look so good for the kids.

Change can come. States and communities are beginning to wage their own junk food battles. In New York City, a State Supreme Court justice struck down Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on huge, sugary drinks. (The Mayor, apparently, should have consulted the city council first.) But the effort wasn’t in vain. Other cities are already weighing in on similar approaches. San Francisco has managed a ban on toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals. Other ideas are in the works. And some of them will work.

Change can come. And that change doesn’t have to be at the expense of free enterprise principles or economic devastation for businesses. Where lines have been drawn—as in the case of the EU’s refusal to accept GMOs—our own great American purveyors have managed to produce foods without them, and still find in Europe a lucrative market.

Change can come. But before it does, government will have to examine the hypocrisy of producing PSA’s that tell our kids to “eat right and exercise,” while simultaneously funding junk food over real food. While offering our kids no protections, even in public school environments, from an onslaught of junk food and fast food huckstering. We’ll have to grow consumer awareness, and consumer anger, until food companies adapt their products to meet public concerns.

For the kids’ sake, here a few battlefronts where we need to take a stand.