Can the Federal Government Regulate Fast-food Industry?

The following article was written as an assignment for the Analytical Reading and Writing class.

After Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation was published in 2001 and became a New York Times bestseller, the movie with the same title and other food-related documentaries such as "Super Size Me" (2004) and "Food Inc." (2009) became smash hits, which may reflect the enhancement of people's awareness of healthy food in the last decade. However, an article in Time Magazine Online shows that today's food situation in the U.S. has not improved since then. It has even become worse. Especially a social problem like the relation between childhood obesity and fast food draws more people's attentions. Legislation by the federal government is said to be required to stop the situation from getting worse (Melnick). Something should be done by the federal government through its policies to solve the childhood obesity problem, but it should not make laws to restrict the fast-food industry.

The policies of the federal government can affect private sectors strongly in direct or indirect ways without legislating them. How it gets involved in fast-food industry without any legislation that against it can be seen in its recent political actions for school meals. It is aimed to solve a childhood obesity problem in a generation. In December 2010, President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to authorize funding for federal school meals and child nutrition programs, and increase access to healthy food for low-income children with a $10 billion budget increased for the next 10 years (Press Secretary). The budget will benefit the purveyors that can provide healthy food. It might have been no problem serving cheap but unhealthy fast food when "working-class families could finally afford to feed their kids restaurant food" (Schlosser 20) at fast-food restaurants in the 1950s, but it is not good enough now. All the food manufacturers and retailers will try to supply new meals that meet the requirements of the new policies, which will be done without any direct regulation against the food industry. What the Government actually does in this new law is listed in the initiative Let's Move!, which is the foundation that the First Lady Michelle Obama launched in February, 2010. It says: 1. Giving parents helpful information and fostering environments that support healthy choices, 2. Providing healthier foods in schools, 3. Ensuring that every family has access to healthy, affordable food, and 4. Helping children become more physically active (Let's Move!). Here, they not only try to replace unhealthy foods with healthier ones, but also increase accessibility and affordability of healthy food for the families that cannot afford them. This cannot be done by profit-motivated private companies. What the initiative is doing here is just to show all the stakeholders including parents, families, schools, communities, health care, industry, media, and government a right direction to solve the problem and let them get involved with their own initiatives. This initiative can work only through the federal government's policy that has nationwide impact.

There has been a strong concern, however, that unhealthy fast-food has been served and advertised at cafeterias in public schools nationwide and legislation against serving and promoting these foods may be necessary to solve the problem. Schlosser revealed in his book ten years ago that "nation's food chains are marketing their products in public schools" (Schlosser 52) and points out that "about 30 percent of the public high schools in the United States offer branded fast food" (Schlosser 56). In Super Size Me, the director and performer Morgan Spurlock also shows that many public schools serve innutritious fast food in cafeterias. In 2005, the Institute of Medicine recommended in its report that schools and school districts should create environment that are advertising-free to the greatest extent possible (Kraak). Center for Disease Control and Prevention also suggests on its website that schools should provide food options that are low in fat, calories, and added sugars (CDC). They all suggest that something should be done for school meals in cafeterias, but the situation has not been changed since Schlosser reported because fast-food companies have never stopped targeting children since then with their strong advertising strategy that "childhood memories of Happy Meals can translate into frequent adult visits" (Schlosser 123) to fast-food restaurants in the future. According to Time Magazine Online posted in November in 2010, the Federal Trade Commission is said to be looking into designating children as a "protected" group in order to shield them from the advertisements of unhealthy foods (Melnick). In the article, Kelly Brownell, co-founder and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, insists that change will come only from "public outcry and legislation" (Melnick). Schlosser says in his book a decade ago, "Most of all, I am concerned about [fast food's] impact on the nation's children" (Schlosser 9) and his concern seems to have become a reality.

Nonetheless, legislation by the federal government against corporate activities does not change the children's thinking about healthy life-style. The new law mentioned earlier has been signed in December 2010 and the initiative had already launched ten months before that. It is difficult to tell if its new actions will work well or not at this point, but the U.S. Government now considers childhood obesity not only as a health care threat due to an increase of health care costs of obesity-related diseases like high-blood pressure, high cholesterol, and TypeⅡ diabetes in the future, but also as a national-security threat since more than one in four young people are unqualified for military service because of their weight (Lee). It is now taken as a national priority and the Government set a clear goal to solve the problem within a generation (Press Secretary). They are strongly motivated by the real threats and taking pragmatic measures to solve the problem as soon as possible based on the national interests.

Another reason for not legislating against a food industry is that it may conflict with the state's policies. Instead, the federal government can help providing healthier meals nationwide. For example, the Government will spend additional six cents per lunch at school to provide with healthier options, which is the first-time increase in over 30 years since Truman. The new legislation will help 115,000 children gain access to school meal programs (Press Secretary) such as the HealthierUS School Challenge Program led by the Department of Agriculture (Food and Nutrition Service), while still permitting local flexibility to tailor the policies to their particular needs (Lee). It does not add a dime to the deficit (Press Secretary). These points are very important because there is huge regional diversity in the U.S. It makes the federal legislation difficult to apply equally. There are some locations called "food deserts" where fresh food is simply not available for purchase (Heuvel). The financial and legislative support by the federal government should be based on the challenges that each community faces because each knows exactly what is needed there. For example, a state or city council can pass a tough legislation directly against fast-food industry's marketing in the state or local community there.

Some legislative actions are actually taken to end advertising fast food to children. A bill that was in hearing process in February 2011 in the Nebraska Legislative Committee prohibits toy giveaways in child meals and the City of San Francisco has also recently passed a similar ordinance (Beck). Schlosser also introduces the voice of the administrators in his book who refuses to allow any advertising in their schools. He quotes some words from a member of the San Francisco Board of Education saying "It's our responsibility to make it clear that schools are here to serve children, not commercial interests" (Schlosser 55). The members of a board of education and city counsels can do something to solve the problem in their ways based on the consensus in the community. If the problem cannot be solved among them, the state government would take actions then. What the federal government actually can do nationwide is very limited. For example, asking major food manufacturers and retailers to place nutrition labeling on the front of the package is the one thing to make it easier for parents to identify healthier foods (Ferran). With the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, each school is motivated by joining the Government's programs based on their needs. As a result, proper purveyors in the community are chosen in competition. Free market mechanism works here without any inhibitory regulations.

There are many actions that the federal government can take to solve social problems such as childhood obesity without regulating corporate activities. In other words, this is how the federal government plays its role in the society without interfering with free-market competitions in private sectors. What they can do instead is to show the direction for the solution and draw a map for it. They can corporate with all the stakeholders in the problem and bring them forward by giving them incentives to do so. This is the crucial point that the Government has to keep in mind if they would like to gain bipartisan support in Congress and bring their policies into practice sooner.

1 件のコメント:

  1. Federal government act creates awareness about healthy food nationwide.and it's main aim is to prevent various obesity related diseases like high blood pressure,high cholesterol etc.great post.I admire for this great writing