Food is a curse - and a cure
Child Obesity: A Growing Threat
By K.C. MYERS
Cape Cod Times
Cerise Bynoe started putting on
weight at the age of 8.
''I wasn't involved in sports or any
activities,'' said the 24-year-old
Harwich resident and Cape Cod
Community College student. ''I'd
come home, throw on the tube and
make cheese and crackers. It was
basically my favorite pastime.''
Vincent dewitt/Cape Cod Times Cerise
Bynoe, 24, began gaining weight when
she was 8 years old. Her sixth-grade
portrait, above left, and a February
2005 photo show the progression of
her weight. Since then, she has lost
Bynoe grew up a ''latchkey kid'' in
Harwich and Orleans. Her food and
television consumption went hand in
hand. By the time she was 24 years
old, she weighed 255 pounds.
''TV was a big part of it for me,''
she said of her bad eating habits.
And she's not alone.
The U.S. Surgeon General calls
obesity an epidemic. No one is
victimized more than children.
The January issue of the Archives of
Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine
published a study comparing 30,000
13- to 15-year-olds that found
Americans to be the heaviest among
those in 14 other industrialized
countries, including France and
The study found that U.S. teenagers
were more likely than teens in other
countries to eat fast food, snacks
and sugary sodas and to be driven to
school and other activities.
Experts point to the proliferation
of cheap, fast, prepackaged food as
the No. 1 contributor to the U.S.
weight problem. Such conveniences
served in extra-large portions
contain lots of fat, lots of salt
and lots of sugar. Combine this with
a more sedentary lifestyle and a
food industry with an endless
appetite for advertising. Suddenly
it's not so hard to understand why
three out of five Americans are
The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention found that Americans are
25 pounds heavier than 40 years ago.
Just since 1970, the proportion of
U.S. children who are overweight has
more than doubled.
How did it come to this? How has an
educated society allowed dietary
habits to reach such low levels?
''I think self-esteem has a lot to
do with it,'' said Bynoe, who said
she has used Oprah's seven diet
rules to drop 87 pounds since last
February. ''So many kids watch so
much television and they are
brainwashed. They see so many skinny
and beautiful girls on TV. The more
MTV I watched, the worse I'd feel
and so to feel better, I'd eat. I
decided I'll never be that pretty,
so why bother. It was a
It didn't help that during all those
hours watching TV, Bynoe was
bombarded by advertising.
Luring a younger market
The marketing of unhealthy food is
flagrant, yet it's such a part of
this culture it goes unnoticed.
For instance, McDonald's Happy Meals
are one of the largest toy
distributors in the world, said Dr.
Michael Brody of the University of
Maryland, chairman of the television
and media committee of the American
Academy of Child and Adolescent
''More than Toys-R-Us and
Wal-Mart,'' he said. ''And the Happy
Meal toys are usually based on a
film or media, so you have media,
toys and fast food, what a
combination. Fifteen, 20 years ago,
you didn't have type 2 diabetes in
children. Now you do.''
In 1999, the food industry spent
approximately $10 billion to $12
billion on marketing directly to
children, said Susan Linn, the
author of ''Consuming Kids'' and
co-founder of the Boston-based
Campaign for a Commercial Free
But you don't need an expert to tell
you that. Simply look at the bottom
shelves of a grocery store in the
cereal or snack sections. Boxes
covered with pictures of Shrek,
SpongeBob SquarePants, Scooby-Doo
and that cute little fish Nemo
Children see about 40,000
commercials on TV each year, a large
proportion of those for foods high
in fat, sugar, and calories, Linn
said. But marketing has gone so much
beyond commercials. Think about
product placement in movies and on
The Nielsen Ratings rank ''American
Idol'' among the most popular
program for 2- to 11-year-olds and
''Coca-Cola products are all over
it,'' Linn said.
Children are especially vulnerable
to the impact of advertising. Linn
found a study by Stanford University
stating that a 30-second commercial
can influence the brand choices in
2-year-olds. Young children cannot
tell the difference between a
commercial and television
programming. Children under 8 don't
comprehend that ads are created to
convince people to buy products, she
''There has always been marketing to
children but it's grown
exponentially in 20 years,'' Linn
But of course, it's not just
children who are bombarded by
Looking at the labels
When Lisa Casey, a nutrition
educator with Cape Cod Healthcare
began advising diabetics and heart
disease patients on how to eat, they
kept saying to her, ''I wish you
could go shopping with us.''
And so she did. Cape Cod Healthcare
hired her to offer $10 ''grocery
store tours'' of the Roche Bros.
store in Mashpee a year ago.
There is nothing like taking a
dietitian along to make you see how
hard it is to buy healthy food.
A person who is sincerely trying to
eat well could spend hours reading
labels, she said.
She pointed to the ''granola bar''
section of the supermarket, a space
nearly 10 feet wide and seven
shelves tall. Nearly all of the
boxes make claims. Yet, only the
''healthy heart'' type of Nature
Valley bar and Kashi bars actually
contained whole grains as the main
ingredient and 3 grams of fiber or
Casey picked Roche Bros. for these
tours because the fresh foods,
produce, meats and fish look so
appetizing, she said. But even here,
the breads in front of the
good-looking 30-foot-long deli
counter offered 90 percent white
Only one whole wheat roll option
existed. Whole wheat includes fiber,
and much research suggests that
fiber may prevent cancer, diabetes,
heart disease and obesity.
Casey found low-fat cheese products
containing calorie-cutting Splenda,
items with no trans fats and those
with high fiber. Her tour was truly
educational, but exhausting.
Navigating through the barrage of
brightly colored packages in a store
takes education and willpower.
That's not easy for adults. For
young people making their own food
choices for the first time, it's
even more challenging.
Healthy food needs to be packaged in
a more fun way to attract young
people, said Jennifer Rabold, an
English teacher at Dennis-Yarmouth
Regional High School. Milk
consumption soared when it was
placed into brightly decorated
plastic containers instead of small,
But the marketing and promotion of
unhealthy food to children remains
as American as, well, apple pie. One
only has to sit next to the
human-sized, plastic Ronald McDonald
seated at the bench near the
merry-go-round at the Cape Cod Mall
and watch what young consumers are
The reason Americans consume so much
fast food is simple: ''It's cheap,
it tastes good and it's fast,'' said
Brody of the University of Maryland.
The ultimate result: The poor diets
of young Americans could make the
generation born after 2000 the first
in the nation's history to die at a
younger age than their parents, said
Ann Cooper, a chef, author and
advocate for childhood nutrition
from East Hampton, N.Y.
''Our children need to understand
the symbiotic relationship between
what we eat and wellness,'' she
said. ''If they don't do that, then
we'll be looking for some fancy
medical company to come along with a
pill. It will bankrupt our health
care system. There is no pill.
People have to realize food is the