Portion sizes have increased drastically over the years, especially in high-fat and high-calorie foods and beverages. Brender notes, "A large popcorn at the movie theater can be more than 1,000 calories!" When children buy these products, they are often eating much more then they realize, increasing the number of calories they are taking in.
According to the CDC, more than half of U.S. middle and high schools offer sugary drinks and unhealthy foods for purchase. Students have easy access to these foods and can purchase unhealthy snacks from the vending machines during all hours of the school day. On top of this, the food served at lunch is often overly processed and filled with hidden calories.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, kids spend about 25 percent of their waking hours watching television. Add to this the influx of smartphones, video games, and computers, and children have a multitude of ways to keep from staying active. There are also budget cuts, which force schools to take away physical education programs and decrease the availability of safe outdoor spaces for kids to get out and move.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that $10 to $12 billion is spent annually on food and beverage marketing for children and out of that, $3 billion is spent by the fast-food industry. Adolescents are bombarded by unhealthy food and beverage advertisements that are tailored specifically to them, and they can be easily influenced by what they see.
Especially in urban environments, healthy food can be extremely difficult to find. There is often less access to supermarkets or farmers markets that sell foods that are good for you. Parents are left to shop at convenience stores or bodegas, which are full of packaged, high-calorie foods and rarely stock healthier foods like fresh fruits and vegetables.
"Food companies manipulate surplus crops into nutritionally inferior products that inundate our food supply because they are cheap," says Brender. To keep foods' costs down, manufacturers load cheap ingredients like high fructose corn syrup into our foods. Candy bars, soda, and other packaged, high-calorie foods are often much cheaper than the healthier options in the grocery store, leading parents and children to purchase them instead.
It seems like every day there is a new energy drink or soda on the market that kids are eager to try. Brender notes, "There is a misconception that juice is actually good for you or is a fruit." The CDC reports that 80 percent of adolescents drink sugar-rich drinks on a daily basis. These beverages offer plenty of unnecessary calories and no nutritional benefit.
Breast-feeding continues to be a taboo subject in the United States, especially among the poorer communities where there remains a lack of education about the subject. Brender states, "Breast-feeding promotion is a necessity because breast-feeding can have some protective factors against obesity. Formula-fed babies tend to gain more weight as they are often overfed." With breast-feeding there is less "force feeding" or "finish the bottle" mentality, Brender explains.
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Families are busier then ever and this has led to a major shift in their daily lives. Parents are working longer hours and kids are pressured to participate in multiple extracurricular activities. This makes sitting down at the dinner table for a home-cooked meal a rare occurrence. Parents are relaying more and more on takeout and restaurants to feed their families.
Healthy habits start at home, yet parents are often unaware of healthy eating principles and so their children are never taught them. Luckily, some schools are starting to take initiative by developing nutrition programs that not only teach kids the benefits of eating healthy but also where whole, healthful food comes from through programs that incorporate school gardens and cooking classes.