We’ve known for a long time that one out of three schoolchildren in the United States is overweight or obese. It hits us in the face every time we turn on the TV, open up a newspaper, or check the online newsfeeds. So these latest figures announced by the Centers for Disease Control came as no big surprise. However, New York City council member Eric Gioia, a Democrat from Queens, thinks he knows why kids are fat. Blame it on Mr. King, Mr. McDonald, Mr. Bell and even Mr. Hut.
That’s Burger King, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. And Gioia also knows how to solve the problem. If he has his way, he’ll have the locations of fast food establishments regulated, by banning construction of any new restaurants closer than one-tenth of a mile from a school. Gioia feels that keeping the fast food away from the kids will keep the kids away from the fast food, therefore saving their waistlines from expansion.
Gioia’s proposal was advanced after a study, done by researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University found that students whose schools were within walking distance of fast food joints were five times as likely to be obese than students at schools that were farther away.
“A fast-food restaurant on the corner can have a terrible impact on a child’s life,” Gioia said. “Obesity, diabetes, hypertension — it’s a step toward a less healthy life.”
Gioia said the ban should be accompanied by other tactics to fight childhood obesity, like easing access to food stamps, putting green markets in poor neighborhoods and educating children about healthy eating. Missing from Gioia’s suggestions, however, was increasing the rate and frequency of exercise, which should be on everyone’s list for a healthier lifestyle, as well as relying on personal responsibility in helping students make healthier food choices
Although there’s been lots of hoopla surrounding Gioia’s suggestion, this isn’t anything new. Last year, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed an ordinance prohibiting construction of new fast food restaurants in a 32-square-mile area inhabited by 500,000 low-income residents. .
Gioia’s proposal is not without its critics and blaming fast food restaurants for a student’s obesity strikes many as misguided and misinformed. Obesity can be a product of many factors, experts say, including genetics, environment, exercise and household nutrition. Plus, most fast food restaurants have responded to the public uproar about their high fat and calorie-laden menus by including healthier food choices, and making nutritional information readily available. So if the fast food industry is acting responsibly, is there really a need for a ban? Some feel Gioia is doing this to toot his own horn and advance his own political career.
If the proposal succeeds and makes it into law, it would only affect new fast food restaurant construction (existing restaurants would be exempt).
And in Other Parts of the World . . .
Meanwhile, as all this is going on in New York, a fast food restaurant in suburban London was shut down for violating a community ordinance that it was too close to a school. “On March 24, we banned all new fast food restaurants from opening within 400 meters of schools,” said a spokesperson for the Leytonstone town council. “We were the first local authority in the country to do that.”
The ban was enacted after residents in the community complained about the litter, noise and anti-social behavior relating to fast food restaurants. “There is also a clear link to childhood obesity and healthy eating,” he added.
And just when Americans are decrying the surge in obesity rates among its young people, China seems to be having the same problem. The rate of obesity and overweight children in China, especially in the economically well-off provinces, has been on the rise. The increase is attributed to several factors: more fast food restaurants, more television watching and additional sedentary time spent studying, as more students enter universities. And guess who China is calling on to help them curb their obesity epidemic?
The United States.