The XX Factor

Who Needs a Toy When the Food Is So Yummy?

Amanda, kids seem to like McDonald’s for the same reasons grown-ups do: Because it tastes good. So getting rid of toys isn’t going to help all that much. We didn’t get toys when I was little, and I lobbied long and hard for the occasional foray to McDonald’s, as our girls, one a teenager, do now.

I’ve been looking into obesity issues among the urban poor for other stories I’m working on, and there are lots of reasons people eat food that’s downright lethal for them, whether it’s from Mickey D’s or the corner chicken joint where you can get a wing box for $1.99. It’s cheap. If you live in a food desert, like so many low-income folks do, it’s convenient. If you’re working a couple of jobs to make ends meet and are beat most of the time, it’s convenient. And when people get into the habit of bypassing fresh food and eating out of a box, they also lose the habit of cooking, as a lot of social scientists and food security activists have found.

Rates of obesity are higher among low-income kids, too, but it seems to have little to do with the cut-throat nature of kiddie sports leagues. From what I see in D.C., a lot of low-income kids don’t even play in sports leagues or take lessons. The registration fees every season are too expensive and most folks don’t know that there are scholarships. You have to sign up online for leagues and classes, and many urban poor don’t have easy access to the Internet, even with computers in libraries. Then there are the costs of equipment and snacks and travel.

More to the point, a lot of poor kids live in neighborhoods where parents don’t feel it’s safe for kids to be playing outside after school, so they don’t. At the same time, low-income kids feel the same lure to the couch from TV and video games that all families have to battle. The more I read about obesity in this country , the more I think it will be a very hard knot to unravel.

Finally, I get the point that Boone makes in the article. I confessed to my 5-year-old daughter’s coach recently that I am turning into an insane soccer parent. My reaction to my kid’s play says a lot more about my issues than her abilities, and it is ugly.

I think for many people, the key to making sure your child stays healthy is to find that sport or outdoor activity your kid enjoys-whether she’s good at it or not, whether it’s organized or not. It could be as simple as riding her scooter or skateboard around the neighborhood from one friend’s house to another, or thrashing through the playground or mucking about in the backyard. Many of us are afraid to let our kids have that kind of freedom, the kind we had when we were kids, and organized sports serve instead as the release valve for all that crazy kid energy.

Photograph of kids at McDonald’s by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images.