At the start of the Spring semester, Common Ground students sat down to take on a set of challenging benchmark assessments — providing students and teachers with data on their skills as writers, readers, thinkers, scientists and mathematicians. On the writing test, we challenged students to engage with a real and pressing issue: Who bears the responsibility for the health impacts of the food we eat?

Here is a sample of what they wrote. To learn more about how we “teach to the test” — and the community-wide conversation that resulted from students’ writing — click here.

Mettao Feliz made the case for corporate responsibility:

[quote]…In the article about McDonalds and the law suits filed against the organization, many young people advocated that the food served to them was directly the cause of their obesity, as well as health conditions related to that; diabetes, strokes, heart disease, high blood sugar, etc. Courts usually throw out cases like these because it’s believed that it’s the customer’s responsibility to know the risks that entail eating at fast food restaurants. “Every responsible person understands what is in products such as hamburgers and fries, as well as the consequence to one’s waistline, and potentially to one’s health, of excessively eating those foods over a prolonged period of time,” said the food chain’s lawyers. On the contrary, many fast food companies do not accurately display ingredients, calories, and fats in the food served, or even how poorly it is made.

… These fast food companies are obviously not concerned with the wellbeing of the health of children in this country. Painfully visible to anyone with eyes, McDonalds and Burger King both agreed to reduce unhealthy marketing to children, yet percentages of advertisement have increased over 10% for each restaurant. Responsibility isn’t always taken into account when purchasing food at stores, delis, and even corner stores. Persons purchasing these foods that are obviously detrimental to the health of the consumer don’t realize the mistake being made when they grab a candy bar instead of an apple, or that bag of chips and not the carrots. People need to be better educated at exactly is in food that they so desire to actually shake away the addiction developed caused by years of in taking these foods into their bodies.

… All in all, fast food companies should offer organic and true healthy options to customers, or at least properly advertise and openly admit to what is in the food the shove down the throat of Americans across the country, and furthermore, more harshly punished and held accountable for their negligent actions and complete disregard for the safety and wellbeing of our country, and especially its youth. [/quote]

Reilly Stevens argued that we as consumers have primary responsibility:

[quote]Since the 1970’s obesity has risen to nearly catastrophic levels in America. Rising to over 30% in some states, it’s no wonder that there has been so much conversation regarding obesity and how it will affect the newer generations as of late. The current question that people are toying with is who the blame should be placed on – companies, or people? Although it might be easier to the ego to try and blame companies for their evil advertisements, there is still a great deal of free-will involved with making the decision to buy fast food filled with high fructose corn syrup or not. Not to say that companies are completely innocent, because of course they are purposefully trying to get people to buy their products; however the majority of the blame should be placed on people who make the decisions, but if there’s going to be blame placed on the companies, it should be for the information that they are not giving Americans— not their advertisements.

Ask most kids and teens today to hum McDonald’s jingle and they’d be able to. Adverts are utterly common place and always have been, without advertisements it would be nearly impossible for any kind of progress, even for healthy options of stores. In the article “Are Children Prey for Fast Food Companies?” the author writes “A major finding is that the amount of marketing of fast foods to children is going up, not down. The average preschool child sees three ads for fast food, every day.” Which is a concerning fact not because advertisements shouldn’t exist but because of what they contain. The question is now if the government should regulate what these ads are selling, but the idea of that is almost equally concerning. Ads are still a form of freedom of speech and while they should be monitored to make sure that companies aren’t lying, but should not be government controlled.

Eating healthy or not is a personal decision that every individual has to make for his or herself, because no one is forcing someone to buy fast or junk food and so it really stems from one’s own choices to buy or not. Blaming a company for advertising is, in short, a fallacious argument to make. As Judge Robert Sweet said in the article “McDonald’s Obesity Suit Tossed”: “Where should the line be drawn between an individual’s own responsibility to take care of herself and society’s responsibility to ensure others shield her? The complaint fails to allege the McDonald’s products consumed by the plaintiffs were dangerous in any way other than that which was open and obvious to a reasonable consumer” This is a pretty clear assessment of the situation: individuals have to be responsible for themselves because it cannot simply be expected that companies will have their best interest in mind. Companies goals are to make profit, and unfortunately, not to care about their consumer base.

Consumers need to have their own best interest in mind because while companies should have resources available to their customers about the products they sell, they can’t be held responsible for their advertisements, nor the education of their consumers. The overall goal for big business in a capitalist society is profit, so it’s up to individual people to decide how they want to make their choices, whether that be through eating fast food or not, they need to educate themselves on concerning matters at hand. Obesity is everyone’s problem in the grand scheme of things, but the blame can be placed on people and relatively poor choices. Despite this, the solution should be considered by everyone as a whole to make America a healthier place.[/quote]

Aridyan Perez fired back on the side of holding corporations accountable:

[quote]There are many fast food restaurants and corner stores in New Haven, Connecticut. We’ve seen the ads and we’ve seen the result of how fast food and affect a person. However, I believe that it is the companies who are at fault for the poor health of their customers. … We must convince these companies to start looking at healthier options.

… Companies make more money by people continually buying their food. 78 million people are obese in the United States today. $147 billion dollars are spent on medical issues that have to do with obesity. If this does not stop, $549.5 billion dollars will be spent on medical issues by 2030. The times have changed a lot. We rely so much on fast food. In America, things are done fast. People do not have time to cook healthy meals anymore. It is more convenient for them to go out and buy a meal that is already prepared. In 1970, $6 billion dollars was spent on fast food. Fast forward to 2000, and $110 billion dollars was spent on fast food. Only $51 million dollars is used yearly to advertise healthy eating and exercise. However, $1.6 billion dollars is used yearly to promote unhealthy eating and lack of exercise …

The media is brainwashing the youth to eat unhealthy. We’ve all seen the McDonald’s and the Wendy’s commercials on TV. Young children are then influenced to want to eat that unhealthy food. What mostly draws the youth to fast food is that they provide you with bigger portions than a regular, home-cooked meal. 1 out of 3 children are obese in America. Children spend 7.5 hours each day paying attention to media. That means that they are seeing many fast food commercials. 30 to 40 percent of teenagers and children eat fast food. McDonald’s is the biggest supplier to children. They are drawn in by the little toys in their happy meals and the Ronald McDonald mascot. Children are more vulnerable, so the fast food companies get to them quicker. At this rate, children are dying earlier than their parents…

The future generation of America is in jeopardy. 2 out of 3 adults are obese. What will happen to children if their parents die at early ages? Obesity is the second cause of death in the United States. The issues that come with it are: heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer. 37.5 percent of American adults are obese. 42 percent will be obese by 2030. We are digesting more fats, oils and high fructose corn syrup. These numbers have increased by 639%, 6%, and 400% from 1970. Children won’t have grandchildren, parents won’t have kids, and kids won’t have their parents. Healthy eating must be more advertised and promoted. However, most people claim that they eat fast food and are perfectly healthy. This is not the case for others though. Everyone should help one another make healthier choices when it comes to eating.[/quote]