There’s currently a debate raging right now over whether food companies should be allowed to advertise  unhealthy foods to kids. One side of the debate believes that, to fight the childhood obesity epidemic, we need to put limits on which foods can be marketed to kids (aka no commercials for foods that have high amounts of saturated fat, sugar, etc). The other side believes that food companies themselves should be responsible for deciding what they can advertise.

I’ve found that when I bring up this issue with others, I often get the “why should the government be involved” response. After all, they explain, childhood obesity is largely due to parents’ irresponsibility. It’s the parents’ job to choose which foods children buy and eat. If a child has an unhealthy diet, it’s the parents’ fault.

I have a pretty big problem with this response (as you might have guessed). Parents are faced with dozens of decisions to make for their kids each day. Ideally, choosing healthy foods for their children should be one of the easier decisions. But instead, parents are swimming in a sea of confusing food products when they enter the grocery store, and many unhealthy foods make health claims that are pretty convincing. And now, a new study shows that these health claims (like “Cocoa Krispies supports your child’s immunity“) indeed do mislead parents and increase the likelihood that they’ll buy these unhealthy foods for their children.

See, in my opinion, almost all parents are trying to do the best they can, and that certainly includes feeding healthy food to their children. But there is a whole mess of things that make this harder for them — ridiculous health claims on foods that are really not good for you, lack of education and knowledge about how to purchase and prepare healthy food, terrible lunches served at school, and, in some areas, a complete lack of affordable and fresh food nearby. So, for all these reasons, parents are not the only ones at fault when it comes to childhood obesity and malnutrition. And I believe food companies need to be held responsible.