I was listening to OnPoint from NPR on the way home today, and their subject was about childhood obesity in the US. The discussion vacillated from point to point, including taxes on soda, the rise of “Super Size” fast food meals, and the subsidies toward corn farmers that allows for all the high-fructose corn syrup in snack foods of children.
I was struck, however, by two callers to the program. One of them complained about how they find it difficult, as a parent, to prevent their kids from getting high sugar snacks, as schools and day-care programs still offer them (along with fruit, veggies, etc.). Another parent pointed out that they only allow their children to have soda “on special occasions, like parties.”
For the record, I used to drink quite a bit of soda, especially in late-high school and college. Only after getting married (i.e. having someone to make healthy dinners for me…) did I lose the 30 lb I gained over that 7 year period, primarily by not eating Hot Pockets every day for lunch and upwards of 64 oz of soda per day anymore. I would estimate that my Linsenbardt/Plochberger genes probably kicked in around the same time, allowing my metabolism to bring me a bit closer to my family’s general body size.
Growing up, however, I can’t say I was over-weight. I drank soda. Mom sent fruit snacks along in my lunch (even though those “fruit snacks” contained maybe 0.001% actual fruit…). I ate chips. I ate candy bars. I ate ice cream. And, to this day, I still do.
I think one thing those callers, and many overly-liberal parents, are missing is the “moderation” piece of the puzzle. Denying your children soda, or making your kids eat exclusively organic food, will not solve the obesity problem amongst young people. Preventing your children from watching more than 1 hour of television a day, or keeping them from video games, will not prevent your kids from being over-weight. These approaches can help, but they are, by no means, a silver bullet.
My intention with Meg, and any future kids, is to try and instill a sense of moderation from the beginning. Yes, she can drink soda. Yes, she can have candy bars. But will I let her down a 32 oz soda on the way to Wal-Mart and another one for the trip home? No. Will I send a “snack size” candy bar in her lunch, and then let her have a “king size” one for a “snack” when she gets home from school? No. Will she eat all the vegetables on her plate like her Dad does (even if she and he don’t like them)? Yes, she will. Will those vegetables be organic? Sometimes, but it’s more important that she eats them at all, along with the rest of her “balanced diet.” It isn’t a black-or-white issue of only eating some things and not eating any of another. It’s the same reason Prohibition didn’t work out so well.
Maybe my opinion(s) will change over the coming years, but I guess that’s where I stand for now. Lest she turn out like Cartman.
Edit: The USDA came out with some new info on the potential benefits of a soda tax recently. Some of the info is summarized in the following chart, and quote:
A tax-induced 20-percent price increase on caloric sweetened beverages could cause an average reduction of 37 calories per day, or 3.8 pounds of body weight over a year, for adults and an average of 43 calories per day, or 4.5 pounds over a year, for children. Given these reductions in calorie consumption, results show an estimated decline in adult overweight prevalence (66.9 to 62.4 percent) and obesity prevalence (33.4 to 30.4 percent), as well as the child at-risk-for-overweight prevalence (32.3 to 27.0 percent) and the overweight prevalence (16.6 to 13.7 percent).
The Atlantic has another article discussing some of the proposed benefits, as mentioned in the new USDA report.