Like any reasonably interesting job, mine is full of things to enjoy and things to lament. I love becoming part of my patients’ lives, and getting to know their families. I dislike having to document all of my continuing education credits to supplicate the gods of licensure and accreditation. I like those moments when I know I’ve given a parent helpful advice. I hate drawing blood from small children. Etc.
And boy, oh boy, oh boy, do I hate it when my colleagues make themselves ridiculous. From the WSJ:
More than 550 health professionals and organizations have signed a letter to McDonald’s Corp. asking the maker of Happy Meals to stop marketing junk food to kids and retire Ronald McDonald.
The letter, slated to run in the form of full-page ads in six metropolitan newspapers around the country on Wednesday, acknowledges that “the contributors to today’s (health) epidemic are manifold and a broad societal response is required. But marketing can no longer be ignored as a significant part of this massive problem.”
The McDonald’s letter, scheduled to run in ads in the Chicago Sun-Times, New York Metro, Boston Metro, San Francisco Examiner, Minneapolis City Pages and Baltimore City Paper, has been signed by such groups as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition, as well as by well-known nutritionists and doctors like Andrew Weil, a doctor and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
First of all, can I just say how relieved I am to see that the American Academy of Pediatrics is not on this list? (Please, merciful heavens, don’t let the American Academy of Pediatrics be on this list.) It was bad enough when “we” suggested a redesign for the hot dog. I don’t think I could stand going after a TV clown.
I was born in the mid-70s, and watched a respectable amount of television throughout my formative years during the Reagan administration. I was thus exposed to a steady stream of ads featuring Ronald McDonald, Toucan Sam, Tony the Tiger, kids infinitely cooler-looking than me drinking Capri Sun, and a gigantic anthropomorphic pitcher of Kool-Aid that would burst through people’s walls. Hell, there was even a Saturday morning cartoon that was basically a 30-minute ad for gummi bears. Somehow I survived this onslaught without becoming morbidly obese. (I also survived watching the “Dungeons and Dragons” cartoon despite being raised in a church that believed doing so was essentially the same thing as carving a pentagram on your forehead.)
You know a big reason why I didn’t get monstrously fat, no matter how many advertisements I saw that hawked “breakfast” “foods” that comprise mainly sugar and artificial coloring? Because [insert drum roll], my mother didn’t buy them! Lacking an income and a car of my own, I was rather at her mercy when it came to what was on offer in the mornings. (Typically, congealed Cream of Wheat.) Every so often we would eat at a fast food restaurant as a special treat, and even more rarely some weird wind would blow and she would buy Trix or some such. But the overwhelming majority of the time our breakfast cereals were Shredded Wheat or Cheerios, and our dinners were made at home. When we went out to dinner, I got milk to drink.
God help us if parents have so become utterly powerless or inept that the only way we can protect our poor, innocent children is to suck all the possibly harmful joy out of their minds. We may as well teach them to bounce balls in perfect unison and be done with it. Unless I am gravely mistaken, televisions still come with “off” buttons as a standard feature. Moms and Dads of America, you can control much of what your children eat! If you don’t buy junk food, your kids won’t have much access to it. If you don’t drive them to Taco Bell, your kids probably won’t be able to order whatever it is they’re calling a meal there these days. Quite regularly I will encounter a parent who laments how much prepackaged crap their kid eats, and I then politely point out that the parent is the one who is stocking the house with it in the first place.
McDonald’s and General Mills and Kraft and all the rest of them are marketing products, almost all of which are fine in moderate amounts and are problematic if you consume them to excess. There should be some reasonable limits on how much they are allowed to make their products accessible to children, in my humble opinion. (I don’t believe fast food should be an option for school lunches, nor do I like soft drink machines in schools.) But making Happy Meals more morose and killing off beloved (if cloying) corporate mascots is just silly, and transforms the people making these recommendations from helpful stewards of public health into dour professional scolds. (Color me skeptical, but I also have my doubts that putting the kibosh on Ronald will make a perceptible dent on our nation’s obesity rates.)
Childhood is full of influences both benign and corrosive. Pediatricians certainly play a role in helping parents arbitrate these influences. But at the end of the day, mothers and fathers are the most important decision-makers for their kids. Surely they should be able to withstand even the most heartfelt pleas from their children for candy and snack cakes and burgers most of the time, thus allowing the Keebler Elves to live another day. After all, didn’t today’s parents survive these commercials themselves?