Tag Archives: The Weight of the Nation

The Wait of the Nation II: Parent Companies, the “Bain” of our Existence!

16 Jul

On May 24th I posted the blog “The Wait of the Nation” in response to the four-part HBO documentary “The Weight of the Nation,” and I specifically focused on part three “Children in Crisis.”  My major concern is both the blaming of individual parents as the primary problem and the marketing of obesity clinics as a primary solution.  For the record, I do not believe parents have no role in children’s health and that health care clinics are not important,  however, I am extremely bothered by the trend of conflating weight-loss, previously considered part of the beauty and cosmetics industry, with fast growing health care industry.  I am also wanting to discuss the parents that are rarely made available for scrutiny in the popular “obesity” narrative.  Ask yourself, what does the private equity firm, Bain Capital whose co-founder and previous owner is Mitt Romney, have to do with “the weight of our nation?”

I started paying closer attention to the money behind the obesity framing and solutions when Style Network aired Too Fat for 15 in the Fall of 2010.  This reality series chronicled the lives of teenagers attending Wellspring Academy of the Carolinas, a weight-loss boarding school.

Dr. Oz featured one of the stars and success stories of the reality series, Tanisha Mitchell, identified initially as “supermorbidly obese” by Wellspring staff.  His two-part series on childhood obesity was entitled “Win the Fight Against Obesity” followed by “Is it Child Abuse to Have a Fat Child.”  To introduce the series Oz (and I do recognize that black women seemingly swear by Dr. Oz) makes this opening statement before introducing Tanisha…

If it’s child abuse to have an obese kid, then your home is the scene of the crime.  And sometimes the only option is to take them out of the abusive environment.  One school says they have the answer when parents run out of options.

Quick review of the Too Fat for 15: Tanisha Mitchell was diagnosed with Blounts’ Disease, a disability that made it difficulty for her to walk, as a child so she had more than a dozen surgeries on her legs throughout her childhood.  She had to be home schooled, was a fantastic student, an avid reader, a loving sister, and aspired to be a justice on the Supreme Court.

Mitchell’s mother was continuously depicted as the problem/the obstacle on Too Fat for 15 Season 1 and in follow-up talk show appearances like Dr. Oz.  Mitchell’s father was rarely addressed, which points to the gendered pattern of criminalizing of mothers as the blamed parents even when fathers are in the home.  But here is the major point, Mitchell’s father took $26K from his 401K plan to cover the cost of one semester at the Wellspring school Dr. Oz promotes.  Mitchell was at Wellspring for nearly two years.  Again, this is the cost for a private boarding school, not Harvard University–there are no marble columns.  In the reality series and talk shows parents are the problem and removing children from their home, according to Dr. Oz, and sending them to an obesity boarding school is marketed as a reasonable solution.

I chose to focus on the parents who are rarely made present for scrutiny, parent companies.  So if we look at Wellspring Academy they are part of the larger Wellspring family, which is owned by CRC Healthgroup.  The founder and owner of Wellspring is Ryan Craig, formerly of global management consultant firm McKinsey & Co not Dr. “such and such” from any part of the health care profession.  Bain Capital “acquired” CRC Healthgroup in 2005 and is therefore the parent company of Wellspring Academy (the $26K per semester private boarding school for the obese).  No big deal right?  Wrong! barnesandnoble.comA quick look at Bain Capital’s portfolio shows that they also own Dunkin Brands and from my research they previously owned Burger King and Domino’s Pizza (still have Domino’s Pizza Japan).  Burger King, according to Susan Linn, author of Consuming Kids and founding member of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, has spent more than $80 million in one year on child marketing alone.  Marketing tactics have included the use of advergames, mobile phone ads, and celeb spokespeople like Sean “P-Diddy” Combs.  Surprisingly Mitt Romney is threatening that, if elected, he will advance policies that force PBS to include advertising on shows like Sesame Street.

No big deal -parents just need to police their kids phones, online usage, radio, television, schools, convenience store visits, birthday party experiences, afterschool program snacks, Scholastic magazine ads, textbooks that teach adding with M&Ms, food commercials with embedded action movie characters, and kids movies with embedded food marketing.  Also when they are done with that they should start a garden at their kids school, be on the nutrition committee, do a cooking program teaching them to cook healthy foods, start a Zumba club, and go jogging with them after work.  But that’s just it, Bain Capital has not only influenced the business and marketing practices of Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, and Dunkin Brands so that they are more profitable by targeting youth with food marketing but likely keeping food service jobs low-wage with poor benefits.

Domino’s delivered for Bain
January 26, 2012| By Beth Healy
The Boston Globe

They in conjunction with their big brother, Bain and Co., a global management consulting firm, take part in what Walter Keischel calls a “fiercening of capitalism” in The Lords of Strategy.  In this culture of fierce capitalism, Tanisha Mitchell’s mother is depicted as the villian, yet there were 21 Bain Capital parented fast food restaurants (BK, Dunkin Doughnuts, and Domino’s Pizzas) within a five miles radius of their hometown Suitland, Maryland in 2011.  Does anyone see anything wrong with Bain Capital making money in Suitland in the fast food industry and then gettin PAID in Brevard in the weight-loss/”health care industry?”  I do.   It may make good business sense, but it is poor “parenting” at best and morally unethical to say the least.

I’m waiting for the nation to start talking about corporate parents (especially private equity firms) and how their poor parenting is sustaining a state of crisis in America and globally in terms of unsustainable economies and incomprehensible health care.  In this neoliberal narrative individual households are being held accountable even though corporate parents are functioning like invisible vacuums sucking families at every angle from “cradle to grave.”  I am convinced the solutions will come from local communities, not money market investors, global consultant firms, Mitt Romney, or Wallstreet.

Here is a list of organizations doing good work with a broad health frame that I can certainly get behind.

The Praxis Project

Communities Creating Healthy Environments

Southwest Youth Collaborative

Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan

Power U for Social Change

Mary Queen of Vietnam (Aquaponics Project)

Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative

Malcom X Grassroots Movement

La Union del Pueblo Entero

Inner-city Muslim Action Network

Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments- Fort Yukon, AK

Chinese Progressive Association-San Fransico

Center for Media Justice

Brooklyn Food Coalition

The Wait of the Nation

24 May

So everyone has been talking about the childhood obesity epidemic, particularly since the four part HBO documentary series The Weight of the Nation aired.  Having recently completed my dissertation on the framing of the childhood obesity epidemic on television, I wanted to take a break but after watching Part Three, “Children in Crisis,” I feel the need to respond.  In many ways the one-hour program provide precisely the type of argument and evidence lacking in typical mainstream narratives.  Focusing attention on the difficulties parents have to contend with such as the barrage of food marketing on multiple media platforms and availability of a variety of food products developed specifically for youth consumers is good.  However, in each family segment there was an “obesity clinic” at the center of the solution narrative. 

I am not arguing that families may not need particular support regarding health and nutrition choices in their homes, but I do question the motives of the healthcare industry, the second largest industry in the nation, conflating weight/size with health consistently.  Can we have a much needed discussion about diabetes without making obesity the umbrella crisis?  Can we recognize that the BMI categories are flawed knowing they are consistently used out of the context of family medical and personal medical histories?  Can we also acknowledge that a diversity of body sizes and shapes is biologically normal and that there are significant numbers of healthy “obese” and “overweight” people as well as unhealthy “normal weight” people?  Can we address fatphobia, discrimination, and bullying as  contributors to poor emotional health?

I am “waiting” for the nation to have a frank discussion about food production, labor, leisure, and human rights, but somehow the narrative is fixated on shaming parents into taking their children to the doctor and/or weight-loss programs to “fix” their bodies.  I was waiting for at least one explanation for why Tea, the eight-year old black girl, was bigger than her classmates and seemed to be developing early.  I was waiting for a discussion about hormones in milk, eggs, and meat.  I was waiting for some acknowledgement of genetically modified foods (food science).  But no, the solutions were framed narrowly within single-issue policy-making for stronger regulations on marketing or food or for fitness programs.  In the meantime, the solution is to visit obesity clinics and research centers, and don’t forget your health insurance card or your credit card because unless you have cold hard cash these “card” industries stand to gain a lot in this weight crisis. 

Nevermind the fact that many youth regardless of their size are eating similar diets of high fructose corn syrup, yellow lake 5 or 6, red lake 40, and salt.  I for one am tired of doing workshops with kids where they cannot identify common fruits and vegetables, the components of a basic meal, or read the ingredients in the foods and beverages they eat daily.  But I am clear that this level of illiteracy does not happen on a national level by mistake.  The under-education and underdevelopment of this nation has been strategically deployed through marketing which functions as our primary public pedagogy.  We used to have cooks in school kitchens, now we have underpaid servers/contingent labor forces, typically women.  We had cooking classes in school and now we have extremely well paid advertising executives and recent college grad interns using all their creativity to market crap to my kid to pay their student loan debts. 

If I am going to be called to fight this battle, I want to be clear that I am fighting to win peace for the nation.   Peace means parenting that is not in competition with multinational unaccountable unregulated industries.  It means addressing widespread food and environmental illiteracy for people “at every size and every weight,” we have had enough food product (brand) literacy to last a millennium. 

Peace means affordable afterschool programming so that youth can be actively engaged in their communities with adult supervision at currently underutilized parks and recreation facilities.  Peace means job security for mothers (of color)/parents broadly and explicit recognition that leisure time (evenings, weekends, vacations) is a human right.  I’m still waiting for my nation to roll out the peace and corporate accountability strategy for improving my community’s health.  For me this is the “wait” this nation can no longer afford.

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