Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Let them eat cookies

No, this post is not about the internet packets of information known as cookies, sometimes used to track web usage.

Incredibly, at least 44 cereals contain more sugar than do several popular brands of cookies (Sugar in Children's Cereals published by the Environmental Working Group and featured in a New York Times’ column by Mark Bittman, The Problem with Breakfast for Children, December 8, 2011).

Nutritionists and other health advisers emphasize that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So, feeding children breakfast cereals full of addictive high fructose corn syrup may make parents feel good but directly feeds the nation’s growing waistlines that are spreading to our children while providing future job security for healthcare workers who will treat the multiple problems most obese people develop.

Bittman highlights the powerful role that advertising plays in cultivating demand among children for products with high sugar content. This is simply one more reason to turn off (or even to disconnect) the TV, encouraging physical activity among children. (In some states, parents without TVs have faced child abuse charges, but, to the best of my knowledge, no state has acted against parents who have a TV permanently turned off.)

Offering children cookies in lieu of breakfast cereal (a variation on Marie Antoinette’s infamous declaration, Let them eat cake) may prove an effective, low-confrontation tactic for decreasing sugar consumption. After all, what self-respecting but ill-informed child would refuse cookies instead of cereal?

On a more serious note, children, each a gift from God, are a family’s and nation’s most precious resource for the future. The current obesity crisis graphically underscores the importance of quality child rearing, an activity that requires investing time even more than money (not that raising a child is ever inexpensive!). Western societies generally devalue stay-at-home parents, yet the contribution and work that such parents do is truly a priceless gift. I wonder what Jesus might have been like had both of his parents worked 60 hours per week to buy him the latest and greatest of everything?

1 comment:

George Clifford said...

From a reader who subscribes by email (my observations of Parisians, from my month there in 2010, echo those below):

Thanks for this post, George.
I couldn’t agree with you more on your concern about childhood obesity. Karine’s grandmother, who lives in Paris, is always taken aback when visiting the U.S.at the enormous size of so many Americans, an epidemic that no doubt starts with childhood eating habits. When visiting Paris last Christmas, it was remarkable how few overweight people there were, part of which may have to do with the fact that as a general practice French people do not eat in between meals. Billboard advertisements in Paris for deserts contain a warning that munching in between meals can be harmful to one’s health.

The prevalence of grossly overweight, obese, and morbidly obese young people and adults in our country is striking and has reach epidemic proportions, to the point where being overweight appears to be the norm rather than the exception. It seems addressing the obesity epidemic in our country should be an key component of our national healthcare debates.