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“Fast food marketing targets children”
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“Fast food marketing targets children”

Fast food is a growing presence among food options, but Ashley Foster-Estwick, 26, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Barbados, raises concerns about what it means for health and nutritional literacy.

It is fast, processed, reasonably priced and often times delicious. If it takes you a little longer to figure out the answer to my opening line, I am talking about fast food, a major evolution in meal prep.

Now we have no need for pots and pans in the developed world. Fast food availability comes at the click of a finger, swipe of a card, at a drive thru or via delivery. This transition from farm to kitchen to on-the go quick meals has been rationalised with reasons ranging from a stressed work life balance, to the affordability of these meals, to the echoes of ‘ I cannot cook!”

At some point or another, we have all stopped and asked ourselves how this affects us: our own health and well-being, and the health of today’s children and teens. Numerous scientific articles preach to us about the detriments of fast food – the finger-licking good chicken, Whopper burgers, fries or chips (depending on which side of the Atlantic you live) and tooth-aching desserts, high in fats and low in any nutritional value. Public health officials refer to fast food as the energy-dense, nutrient-poor foodstuff that has marketed itself right into our mouths on a consistent basis.

The slogans, colours, jingles, mascots and use of technological advancements in print, web and television media guarantee that any local or transnational fast food restaurant is sure to be spotted at any given time on any day. Children passing their preferred fast food establishment go through a range of emotions. They politely ask for a kids’ meal with toy included, raising their voices to ensure their requests are heard, to perhaps ultimately throwing a tantrum as they succumb to the craving of KFC, Burger King or a local favourite in Barbados – Chefette.

Yet there is another scenario about how children access their preferred junk meal. Parents or guardians simply make it a regular habit. I have had the privilege of speaking with many Barbadian parents on their fast food purchasing habits for their kids, and what I heard was not entirely shocking. Parents love the ease that fast food restaurants provide, and in the current economic climate the affordability is enough to forgo pots and pans for more than one evening.

But why is this a problem It is the 21st century? Surely fast food restaurants serve some purpose. Without a doubt, their success is a direct result of consumers’ desire for their products. The problem, however, is not the obvious high childhood obesity rates, but rather the realisation that our children have no real relationship with food.

The average Barbadian family does not have a kitchen garden, but fruit trees are plentiful and maybe that has given us leeway to slack off on producing more of our own crops. Limited knowledge about how food is grown and prepared manifests itself as children not appreciating a healthier cooked meal and perhaps succumbing even more quickly to fast food marketing gimmicks. Would I be surprised at the sight of a child squealing squeamishly at soil on a potato? No. Instead, the French fry or chip is a more acceptable version of the potato.  I get very anxious when I put this in context with our current rate of chronic diseases.

The solutions to this modern day crisis are painless. Legislation needs to be adopted in all CARICOM states that expressly forbids the direct marketing of fast food establishments in our primary and secondary schools. Direct marketing could include the donation of branded stationery or equipment supplies.  From there, let us then start at the basics and work on getting young children to appreciate locally grown produce a little bit better.

photo credit: avlxyz Wicked Wings – KFC AUD2.95 snack pack via photopin (license)
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About me: I was born and raised on the island of Barbados. While writing has always been an outlet for my creative ideas or thoughts, I never fully pursued it as a career. Instead I have studied business, languages and politics.

I work in administration and management sectors, hoping to use these skills to cross over into the management of public health. My hope is to use this platform as a way to stimulate conversation with my peers and reenergise my writing.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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