Two news stories about kids and nutrition have caught my eye recently.
The first article reported the findings of a Yale University study in which it was discovered that children found snack foods with pictures of popular cartoon characters on the front of the package tastier than the same foods packaged without the characters. Obviously, Shrek, Dora, and their pals have a powerful influence over kids that extends beyond their television choices, and the results of this study are hardly surprising. Unfortunately, most of these character images appear on junk food and not on healthier choices, making it difficult for parents to encourage good nutritional choices.
The second article told of a possible lawsuit against McDonald’s on behalf of a consumer-advocacy group. The group is charging that McDonald’s deceptively markets toys to children via its Happy Meals, which leads to kids nag their parents to take them to McDonald’s, where the food is less-than-healthy.
I’ve written here before about my strong dislike of the garbage food available to kids in restaurants and school cafeterias.
But I’m torn regarding my feelings about the study and the lawsuit. I believe that ultimately parents have the most influence over what their children do and don’t eat. Children cannot drive themselves to fast-food restaurants, and they can’t pay for their meals. Kelloggs, Nabisco, and other food-industry giants are in the business of marketing and selling their products. We make the choices over what we buy for ourselves and our families and what we don’t.
But I also find more than a little disturbing expensive marketing campaigns blitzing children with alluring messages that use their favorite characters to entice them to buy something that’s not good for them. Kids should be able to watch television or play a game on the Internet without being bombarded with food ads whose intent they don’t understand.
And do the majority of consumers know what’s really in their food, or understand how to read a food label? I haven’t been inside a McDonald’s in over 10 years because I know how unhealthy their food is, but even I was surprised (not to mention disgusted) to read this week that Chicken McNuggets (incidentally, the main course in one of only two ”healthier” Happy Meals that McDonald’s pledged to advertise to children younger than 12) actually contain an “anti-foaming agent” found in Silly Putty. Interestingly, Chicken McNuggets in the UK do not contain this delicious-sounding chemical.
Do you think it’s parents or the food industry (or both) who shoulder the responsibility for the childhood obesity epidemic and related health problem crisis we have in this country?
Is the pending lawsuit against McDonald’s a frivolous waste of court time, or is it an important step toward corporate accountability?
I used to order the Chicken Crispers meal at Chili’s on a regular basis.
Before we had children, my husband and I would eat out frequently. Chili’s was a favorite of ours, and given that my eating habits were once more like that of a five-year-old than the 20-something I was before I started running and eating more healthfully, chicken fingers were always a draw.
In case you’re not familiar with this “entree” at Chili’s, allow me to describe it for you: questionable chicken parts are liberally coated with bread crumbs and then deep-fried in hot oil and placed atop a heaping helping of seasoned French fries. Half an ear of corn accompanies the dish, but blech, corn is a vegetable, so I never touched it.
I stopped eating Chicken Crispers over seven years ago, but I’d like to think I wouldn’t have eaten them at all had I known exactly how many calories, how much fat, and how many carbs were in the meal. A few year’s back, while doing research for an article on unhealthy restaurant meals, I came across this article in Men’s Health, which listed the Chicken Crispers meal as one of the “20 Worst Foods in America.”
99 grams of fat
240 grams of carbs
(Incidentally, Men’s Health also named Chili’s “Pepper Pals Country-Fried Chicken Crispers with Ranch Dressing and Homestyle Fries” as their Worst Kids Meal of 2009: 1,110 calories, 82 grams of fat, and 56 grams of carbohydrates. To give you an idea of just how nutritionally unsound this meal is, the average preschooler needs between 1,200 and 1,600 calories a day. )
If I hadn’t been doing research, however, I never would have known exactly how unhealthy a meal I was actually eating. Of course, I had no delusions that my Chicken Crispers meal equated to an organic red leaf lettuce salad with sliced free-range, grass-fed chicken, but I can honestly say that if I had seen the nutritional information printed beside the meal on the Chili’s menu, I would have chosen something else.
And now, thanks to the new health reform law, it seems that we’ll actually have this information available to us when we dine out.
According to this article, chain restaurants with more than 20 outlets must print calorie counts on their menus, along with the recommended number of calories a person should take in each day. Vending machines will have calorie counts posted too.
Research done in test cities (New York and Seattle) has shown that menu labeling works in helping people make smarter choices when eating in restaurants. And that’s a good thing, considering the growing obesity problem we have in this country.
What do you think about menu labeling? Would it make you think twice before ordering a high-calorie meal, or do you think that any attempt to change health-related behavior in the U.S. is an impossibility?
My three-year-old daughter received her first “big-girl” bike last week. Too big for her tricycle, she received a two-wheeler, complete with a backpack that attaches to the handlebars, a water bottle, and training wheels.
She is in love, and has wanted to do nothing but ride this bike constantly. And I’m glad, because the CDC recommends that in order to stay healthy, children should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
However, looking at their guidelines and the three types of physical activity the CDC recommends kids perform, I wonder how many kids are meeting this requirement. And perhaps more importantly, how easy it is for them to do so, given the largely sedentary environment in which so many children grow up and the myriad unhealthy temptations that exist everywhere they go.
One of the main reasons I chose my daughter’s preschool was because the children go outside to play on the school’s playground every single day (barring a rainstorm or other prohibitive weather). She’s enrolled in swimming lessons this summer at the club, and is attending her preschool’s outdoor summer camp (in addition to two others through my town’s recreation department). And eating healthfully is something she’s grown up with, so she’s completely unaware that kid-targeted fast-food restaurants even exist.
But she’s three. She doesn’t watch commercial television. We don’t have a video game console. Her computer time is limited to the preschool-level Clifford game at the library. And the Golden Arches are just a giant yellow letter “M” to her. I have no delusions that it will be this easy to keep her active and eating well in another year or two, when her world will open up and she’ll begin to beg for things to which she currently has no exposure.
And I’m scared.
But I’m also really lucky. And you are too.
We belong to a club that makes a healthy lifestyle easy for us, and for our kids as well. The hours accomodate virtually every schedule. Classes are tailored for a wide range of fitness levels and interests. And from Kidtown’s 4,000 square feet of wide open space to encourage movement to Camp Midtown, the club’s four-day Summer Sports Camp for kids, to Tennis and Yoga Camps, the club is focused on helping the entire family stay active.
The childhood obesity rate in this country is skyrocketing, so clearly encouraging our children to get up off the couch, away from the DS, and out from behind the computer is something we need to do. It’s heart-breaking to think of the results of this new study, which has proven something many of us know already: overweight kids are 63% more likely to be bullied in elementary school.
But how do we combat the mixed messages they receive when they’re out of our care?
If you have kids or work with kids, how do you help them stay active?
The food kids are served in school cafeterias is, for the most part, junk.
That’s what celebrity chef Jamie Oliver thinks, anyway. And I happen to agree with him.
I have watched with rapt fascination the ABC television show ”Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” and while very little about the state of this country’s nutrition surprises me anymore, what this show is documenting has.
He sets up camp in Huntington, West Virginia, recently named by the CDC as the “Unhealthiest City in America,” and heads into the school system to see what the kids are served in the cafeterias. He finds the elementary school kids being served pizza (eggs, sausage, and loads of cheese) for breakfast, and processed, breaded chicken nuggets and french fries for lunch. The students wash down their meals with chocolate and strawberry milk, which the kids overwhelmingly choose over plain white milk, and which contain more sugar than a can of Coke.
He finds virtually the same scenario in the high school cafeteria. French fries are in huge demand there, and when Jamie yanks the fries in one episode, the teenagers are not happy.
There is a complete dearth of freshly prepared food available for the kids to eat in school.
Perhaps more frightening than what the kids are eating is their inability to identify even the most basic of vegetables. Jamie enters a first-grade classroom armed with broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, and other produce. When asked to identify these veggies, the kids are completely stumped.
And this? Makes me want to cry.
Yes, Jamie Oliver chose a region of the country that struggles to overcome cultural stereotypes. And yes, there is not enough talk of exactly WHY the kids are eating pizza for breakfast and processed nuggets with a five-page, completely unpronouncable ingredient list, and iridescent-pink milk for lunch (much of it boils down to the lack of money for fresh-food initiatives and a completely convoluted USDA food classification system where French fries are considered a vegetable), but the bottom line is this:
This kind of food is what is contributing to the childhood obesity problem in this country, and it needs to stop. Now.
Jamie Oliver is shining the spotlight on Huntington to expose a problem found in every school in the country. He is attempting to completely revamp school cafeteria food, so that students are offered healthy, freshly prepared meals every single day.
But the problem is bigger than school lunch food. We have to change not only what we’re feeding our kids in school and at home, but also the way our kids think about the food they eat.
Midtown member Christina Le Beau, author of Spoonfed, a blog that focuses on ways to help parents empower their children to make healthy-eating choices, says, “We shouldn’t be treating our kids like mindless eating machines who aren’t worthy of real food. Children need nutrition, not government-subsidized calories disguised as nutrition. The only reason kids get stuck in the rut of eating so-called ‘kid food’ like chicken nuggets and colored milk is because that’s what adults think kids eat. And adults think that because food marketers have made it so easy to turn off the common sense and reach for the quick fix.”
It doesn’t have to be this way.
My three-and-a-half-year-old daughter has never eaten a chicken nugget. She eats edamame by the handful, and recently recoiled at the chocolate chip cookie the nice woman in the Wegmans bakery offered to her, because she wanted the fruit flats she was used to receiving instead. Kids can learn to make good food decisions. I won’t say it’s easy (and my children certainly do not eat 100% healthfully every single day), but we can guide them in the right direction and help them understand why potato chips and deep-fried Twinkies are not good for their little bodies.
I recently read Bean Appetit: Hip and Healthy Ways to Have Fun with Food, written by Shannon Payette Seip and Kelly Parthen. This pair founded Bean Sprouts, a kids’ cafe and cooking school in Middleton, Wisconsin. The authors are on a mission to encourage kids to get excited about healthy eating by offering them nutritious food in a fun and hands-on atmosphere. The book is fantastic because it teaches parents how to involve their children in making their own healthy food that’s so appealing kids are certain to gobble it right up. My older daughter loves the dragonfly sandwich made from whole wheat pita, one baby dill pickle, slices of turkey breast, fresh fruit, and other yummy ingredients.
We can’t afford not to make the effort for good nutrition. Our children’s lives are at stake.
As Midtown members, you’re undoubtedly committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle for yourself and for your family.
So I’m curious. If you’re watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, what do you think about the show?
If you have children, what are your thoughts about the school lunch program in their school? How do you feed your kids when they’re at home?
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