Fast food, soda and junk food

If you’ve seen “Supersize Me” you know that along with fast food, junk food and unhealthy cafeteria food in schools is a big problem in the United States. Hell, in middle school I remember calling Funyons and a candy bar “lunch.” And in high school I recall eating french fries and pepperoni pizza on MANY occasions. Oh yeah! That was some fine dining! ;)

I recently read an article in the current issue of Mothering magazine about soda companies and their marketing ploys in schools. It seems that the companies approach the school districts offering to pay for this, that or the other thing in exchange for the school signing a contract that allows them to put their soda vending machines in the schools. The fine print (which usually is not read by the district) forbids them from putting in other vending machines with healthy alternatives (like milk or water). And the contracts can be binding for many years, like up to 8-10.

Soda companies see the formative years as being the best time to develop product loyalty in kids/teens. I remember arguing with my own friends over which was better – Coke or Pepsi.

Then there’s McDonald’s (and many other fast food chains) that markets itself to kids by way of a clown for a mascot as well as play areas in many of the restaurants. Buy a “Happy Meal” and get a free toy!

Taken from “The Fast Food Trap: How Commercialism Creates Overweight Children”
By Gary Ruskin
Mothering Magazine Issue 121: November/December 2003

“McDonald’s first national ad campaign, in 1967, was an unexpectedly huge success: 10 million kids wrote in to pick floats for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. From then it was off to the races. McDonald’s advertising director put this battle cry on his wall: “Early to bed / Early to rise / Advertise / Advertise / Advertise.”18 Since then, McDonald’s has been masterful in its use of beloved characters to sell its high-calorie fast food. Among others, McDonald’s has employed Winnie-the-Pooh, 101 Dalmatians, Nemo, Furby, Tarzan, and Beanie Babies to sell its Happy Meals.”

“Fast-food marketers such as McDonald’s and Burger King have reshaped the diets of American parents and kids, and the rise in fast-food consumption has paralleled the boom in the incidence of childhood obesity. Between 1977 and 1995, the percentage of meals and snacks eaten at fast-food restaurants doubled. This has been especially devastating to the health of children. Because fast food is typically so high in sugar, fat, and calories, these meals can quickly add pounds to a kid’s waistline. In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers found that, compared to adolescents who did not eat at fast-food restaurants, boys and girls who ate fast food three times in the previous week had astoundingly higher calorie intakes: 40 and 37 percent, respectively.”

The problem with all of this is that obesity in children in the U.S. is at epidemic levels. I think this is partially due to our recent sedentary lifestyles – i.e. watching TV, playing video or computer games – and also due to junk food and fast food.

“Of these occupational illnesses of childhood, obesity is probably the greatest. Certainly it is the most apparent, as a visit to just about any elementary school or mall will confirm. Depending on how you measure it, between 15 and 24 percent of American children are overweight-a threefold increase since the early 1970s.”

That’s a frightening statistic. I know we aren’t the best about getting off our butts and setting a good example. Both Jody and I enjoy our computer time and like to watch the occasional TV show. But I think things like that can be done in moderation (which is the real key and something we need to work on).

It’s frustrating to me that the soda and fast food companies see children as their target audience with no regard for their health or well-being. This is commercialism run amok at the children’s expense.

It’s encouraging to know, however, that thanks to concerned parents, some states and cities are passing legislation that prohibit soda or junk food from their schools (see below).

Recent Victories
Dates in parentheses indicate when the legislation was approved or signed into law.

-California: banned sale of junk food and soda in elementary schools and sale of soda in middle schools as of 1/1/04 (10/01).
-Texas: banned sale of soda, candy, and foods of minimal nutritional value from hallways, lunchrooms, common areas during mealtimes (4/02).
-Los Angeles: banned sale of soda in all L.A. public schools as of 1/1/04 (8/02).
-Nashville: banned Channel One from Nashville public schools (9/02).
-New York City: banned candy, soda, and other unhealthy snacks from vending machines, and improved school meals (6/03).
-Oakland, California: banned sale of soda, candy from Oakland public schools (12/01).
-Philadelphia: announced plan to ban sale of soda from all Philadelphia public-school vending machines not in faculty lounges (7/03).
-San Francisco: banned sale of soda, candy in cafeterias as of 2003-2004 school year (1/03).
-Seattle: banned Channel One from Seattle public schools as of 2004-2005 school year (11/01).

Obviously the best thing parents can do is adopt healthy lifestyles and eating habits at home and hope that their children will learn by example. But as far as getting the soda and junk food out of their schools, Ruskin advises, “The single best thing you can do is to tell your school-board members and state legislators to implement the Childhood Obesity Prevention Agenda, which has been endorsed by dozens of top obesity researchers and prominent public health groups.”

It’s nice to see that parents’ efforts can make a difference. I hope that more cities and states will continue to pass laws banning the crap from the schools.

As for me – I know Ava’s school-age days are still a ways off, but it can’t hurt for me to start checking around now to see what kind of policies are in place in our local school district. These things tend to take time, or so I’m gathering from the date the above legislations were passed and when they will go into effect, so the sooner the better.

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5 thoughts on “Fast food, soda and junk food

  1. I recently found out that my old high school no longer carries soda machines. Most all of our choices were soda, soda and more soda vending machines. I think it is a good thing to offer better choices such as flavored water and juices. I suppose if the kids really want soda they can just bring in their own from home. This way the school is not encouraging unhealthy habits.

    I LOVE soda, though I can go a few days without any with no problem. Now Ben on the other hand is a different story…soda is his drug of choice LOL, which can be frustrating sometimes.

  2. I just recently discovered that a close friend of mine has given her 9 month old son soda. I was astounded by this, as it would never even occur to me to give Ewan soda, or any other kind of sugery drink. He is way to young and quite in love with his breatmilk. It baffles my mind why anyone would do this. I mean what are they thinking. I remember reading an article before Ewan was born and it stated that over 50% of babies have tasted soda by the age of 9 months. I was like no way, but now i’m beginning to think that maybe it’s true. Another 25% had tasted it by a year and by 18 months 90% of all american children had had pop. Crazy!!

  3. I can’t believe that ppl give their small children soda. Not only is the sugar out of control but the chemicals in it as well. THe other day I thought that I would get some frozen fruit bars for me. I can’t have corn syrup whild I BF my son and I don’t do much refined sugars at all either. I read one box that said “sugar free” or was it “fat free” whatever, and there was this thing called “phenylneutronics” or something like that…scary that it’s not something I can even remember how to spell. Anyway, it had a disclaimer on it that said that the “P” word can cause diareah and other things I can’t even remember bc I quickly chucked the box back in the store freezer. My point is that I’m amazed at how many chemicals we consume in this country w/o thinking abt it. My mom started drinking diet soda and started getting horrible headaches. She decided it was the saccarin or whatever it is in the diet soda. If it does that to an adult, imagine what it could do to a small child or child in general! Scary! We wonder abt all of this hyperactivity that kids have and then you look at what they are eating and drinking on a daily basis. My family thinks I’m a little crazy for not giving my child candy or cookies but I do make cookies w/ agave nectar or brown rice syrup…not as sweet but still yummy. I know I am denying my child sweet goodness (according to my parents) but they are overweight and eat out for just abt every dinner meal. I’ll continue on w/ my agave nectar cookies! :)

  4. Tanya – I think it’s great that many schools are getting rid of soda. Sure, if the kids want to drink it, they will still find ways to get it. But I don’t think the schools should be the provider.

    I wrote to our school district to see what policies they have in place and I was happy to hear they are in the process of moving towards offering healthier foods. I’m still waiting to get a response to some of my questions, but I think I’ll post what I find out when I’ve got the answers. I know that they have a contract with Pepsi right now, but I don’t know when the contract expires and if they will renew it.

    Myrmom – That’s a disturbing number. I was skeptical about giving Ava some watered down juice the other day (when she was having constipation issues), and I can’t imagine giving her soda at this age. Turns out Ava would have nothing to do with the watered down apple juice anyway, and I found that feeding her apricots is helping keep her regular. :)

    I just did a search to see what other info I could find out about soda consumption in children and came across this article – The Real Danger of Soda to You and Your Children. It’s an interesting read.

    Vitalspark – Yes, it’s crazy what kinds of chemicals are in the foods that we eat. I know I’m guilty of often not reading the labels.
    I’m glad that your mom was able to identify what was giving her problems and then avoid it.

  5. I just came across this article too.
    Soft Drinks – America’s Other Drinking Problem

    Here are some things from the article that grabbed my attention:
    “According to the National Soft Drink Association (NSDA), consumption of soft drinks is now over six hundred 12-ounce servings per person, per year. Since 1978, soda consumption in the US has tripled for boys and doubled for girls. Young males, age 12-29 are the biggest consumers at over 160 gallons per year-that is almost 2 quarts per day.”

    “Huge increases in soft drink consumption have not happened by chance; they are due to intense marketing efforts by soft drink corporations. Coca Cola, for example, has set the goal of raising consumption of its products in the US by at least 25 percent per year. The adult market is stagnant, so kids are the target. According to an article in “Beverage”, January 1999, “Influencing elementary school students is very important to soft drink marketers.”"

    “We as practitioners and advocates of a healthy life-style recognize that consuming even as little as one or two sodas per day is undeniably connected to a myriad of pathologies. The most commonly associated health risks are obesity, diabetes and other blood sugar disorders, tooth decay, osteoporosis and bone fractures, nutritional deficiencies, heart disease, food addictions and eating disorders, neurotransmitter dysfunction from chemical sweeteners, and neurological and adrenal disorders from excessive caffeine.”

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