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

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

sheridf

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

  1. sheridf…What a wonderful piece of “follow-the-money,” investigative writing! I have to admit, when I saw the title on my emailed subscription, I said, “Argh!, more Romney-Bain sh*it! Does it really matter when he left (besides the fact he may have lied; I mean, Hell,all politicians lie about their money and what they do to get it, if they can get away with it — ALL of them!)?

    But this sh*t right here?? This, is the kind of information the MSM and the Changeling’s campaign folk (full disclosure: I’m no fan of his, or them, either!) should be putting out there! Particularly given it’s horribly, negative contributions to the “framing” of our children’s, parents’ and families’ lives (which, as I think about it, speaks to yet another way the current residents of the “Big House,” continue to ignore, “big picture” issues affecting the Black community — I mean, Obesity is/has been his wife’s “signature” issue! Brava my young sister! Thank you for this work…

  2. YES!!! Thank you, Sheridf, for making this connection and writing about it! It is just so on point.

    Im sorry I did not get to connect with you at the Roots and Remedies conference.

    My partner and I, she was in attendance for most of the conference that weekend, have been doing research deconstructing the obesity epidemic and looking at very similar “parenting” connections likes what you have. For example, how some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies who are benefiting from this epidemic, namely Pfizer and Glaxo, are also connected to producers of high-fructose corn syrup, which is in virtually everything.

    Im so glad to see this analysis out here. Thank you crunk feminist collective. I love being in the struggle with ya’ll.

  3. This is an excellent article. It is rare that I hear or read about deeply critical thinking around the ‘obesity epidemic’, how ‘individual responsibility’ is centralized, ‘bad mothers’ pathologized, and how you need to follow them money trail to see who is funding, pushing , supporting what to stack the money in their bank accounts. If you have not checked it out already, Julie Guthman’s newest book “Weighin In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitaism” is a great read.

    And yea, I’m amazed how many people, including women of color, who deify the words of Dr. Oz. I’m always skeptical of any ‘health guru’ who focuses on ‘individual consumerism’ as the ‘remedy’ to creating ‘healthy bodies’ . I never see any one with Dr. Oz’s status who is actually trying to understand health, access, etc through structures, systems, etc. Furthermore, none of these gurus talk about how ‘health’ is a social construct and changes throughout time, economic interest– or how those who are usually the benchmark of ‘healthy’ are white upper class thing straight able bodies USAmericans. It’s a ‘given’ that superior health and beauty is signified by whiteness + class elite; it’s the norm.

    (Of my soap box)

  4. Pingback: An ‘XXL’ story. «

  5. This post is the best. I was walking and thinking about obesity in the U.S. today but I didn’t have the tools to put it into a capitalist framework. Thanks. I basically saw a heavy middle aged white woman sitting on a bench and wondered what her life was like? And then I thought that the U.S. doesn’t have an obesity problem, but it has all of these social inequity problems that make it possible for some people to excel or be well or thin, and others to not have access to that. And then there is the demonizing of the individual or the parents or individual responsibility as the narrative solution that completely ignores all of the other stuff. Racism, classism, access to food, leisure time, ability, patriarchy etc. Thanks for posting the links, I want to check them out.

  6. Oh my glob! Everyone needs to read this! It’s times like these I wish I had a facebook/twitter.

  7. The language used to describe obesity is also troubling. “Blast fat,” “abolish fat,” etc. There’s a book by Amy Erdan Farrell, Fat Shame, that makes links between America’s anti-obesity campaigns and its obsession with being “civilized.” She also goes on to say that being as civilized as possible would also mean being as “White” as possible, so then thinness is of utmost importance because if one gains weight, it may imply a foray into depravity. Also, I’ve never been comfortable with Dr. Oz’s almost singular focus on “fighting” obesity. One always needs a multi-tiered approach when discussing weight, and he only focuses on exercise and eating “right.” Also, if we were REALLY worried about obesity, we’d stop lobbyists and congressmen from working on the boards of big business (dairy and meat industries) and pushing all of this sugar laden, heart-attack inducing product on grocery shelves. How can the state and other governing bodies tell us to lose weight and “be healthy” but then push these coma-inducing “foods” on us. It kills me. SMH.

  8. Wow!! This post is simply fantastic blogging! Sheridf, you’re amazing.

    @Blacknectar “links between America’s anti-obesity campaigns and its obsession with being “civilized.”” That certainly rings true when I think about attitudes I’ve seen. I’ll be thinking about that, thanks.

    • You’re welcome! If you’re interested in exploring being “civilized” and its relationship with anti-obesity campaigns, I’d say read the book I mentioned above. It makes you think of anti-obesity endeavors in an entirely different way.

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