Are parents or the food industry to blame for obesity?

Related tags Percent Children Nutrition Mintel

Most adults blame parents for America's current adolescent obesity
crisis, though the proliferation of junk food remains a critical
concern according to a new report.

More than 77 percent of adults surveyed by Mintel cited that parents are to blame for the national crisis.

Data from the Bureau of Labor cites that both American children and parents are spending increased time commuting from work, school and activities. Eating takes place en route from one venue or another, making sitting down to a home-cooked, carefully balanced meal even less of a reality for families.

The absence of regulated family eating schedules was cited as one of the main causes of poor dietary habits. But other major concerns cited by respondents should serve as a warning to food makers that they are not about to be let off the hook just yet.

For example, some 93 percent felt that junk food continues to play a strong role in childhood obesity issues. Clearly, the food industry needs to respond to changing eating patterns in a more health-conscious way.

Children's obesity has gained significant attention in the health care and child welfare arenas over the past five years. In 2002, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) cited that 16 percent of children aged 6-11 were overweight, with the same percentage holding true for 12-19 year olds.

Approximately 42 percent of Mintel's respondents surveyed identified someone in their households as being overweight.

"Children's eating habits are suffering due to the lack of structured meal time, and this is as big a challenge as the lack of balanced meals,"​ said Amanda Archibald, analyst and registered dietitian for Mintel. "Compressed schedules and cramped time availability for both children and parents may play a more important role than previously thought in making healthy food choices."

According to Mintel's​ Menu Insights, a menu-tracking system, more than 47 percent of children's menu items were fried. Chicken fingers led the way on the top 5 children's menu dishes list, followed by grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers, macaroni and cheese, and hot dogs.

Mintel's report also cites that overall restaurant portions have also steadily increased over time.

"There is a great chance for fast food and casual dining restaurants to lead by example when it comes to menus for kids,"​ said Archibald. "Healthy offerings in this category pale in comparison to those on the adult menu.

"In an era of skyrocketing obesity among children, coupled with an increase in away-from-home dining dollars, the opportunity for restaurant operators to add health appeal for kids is clear. Operators are stepping up to the plate, but many more should take a closer look at the potential to build in this menu area."

Television advertising is also coming under closer scrutiny. Of the estimated 40,000 television commercials children view a year, 32 percent are for candy, 31 percent for cereal, and 9 percent for fast food.

According to research by Kristen Harrison, a speech communication professor at the University of Illinois, these nutrient-poor high-sugar products continue to dominate television advertising aimed at children between the ages of six to 11.

It remains to be seen whether new recommendations from the National Advertising Review Council (NARC), designed to strengthen self-regulation in children's advertising and tackle obesity, will have any impact.

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