Tag Archive | food

Selling junk to kids

Marketing junk food to children has become a major source of debate over the past several years.  The countless sources of marketing children are being exposed to have continued to multiply.  Last year, efforts were made by the Interagency Working Group on Foods Marketed to Children to finally do something about this growing problem.  This organization was directed by congress to come up with nutrition guidelines for foods that are marketed to children.

“The guidelines focus on two “nutrition principles” for foods marketed to children: Ads and marketing campaigns should encourage kids to choose nutritional foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meat; and foods aimed at children should have limits on saturated fat, trans fat, added sugar and sodium. The target date for getting everyone on board is 2016.” (Source)

“We’re Not Buying It,” a video featuring representatives from Yale, CSPI, Prevention Institute, among other organizations was created in an attempt to get the Obama Administration to support these changes.  Unfortunately lobbying has proven to be a barrier yet again, even for voluntary guidelines.

Although the recommended guidelines are far from perfect and other considerations need to be made, the idea of limiting what foods can be marketed to children is quite promising.  This could be one of the most effective ways to start fighting the growth of childhood obesity.

For information on how to get you kids to eat more fruits and veggies, listen to my Podcast!

 Podcast Script

Menus exposed!

The debate of whether or not we should know exactly what’s in what we are being served continues. Should restaurants (particularly fast service) be required to openly inform consumers of the caloric content in what they offer? The food industry says no (of course) because if we care about what we’re eating, we’ll eat the healthier option and we can just make the assumption that it is going to be good (or at least better) for us. Besides… we’re all too ignorant to make wise decisions based on nutrition facts…right? Oh, and not to mention… if we actually are smarter than the average bear… they won’t get our money. So there’s that…

On the other hand, the consumer side says yes (for obvious reasons), we should know. Growing rates of obesity and diet-related disease nationwide also suggest it might be helpful to know what we’re taking in when we’re eating out. The history of this debate had previously been quite discouraging, but it seems there’s hope we’ll be sailing in the right direction at least for a while.

In March of 2010, President Obama signed a long overdue law that required the FDA to issue federal menu label regulations. Although the proposed regulations fall short on many counts (movie theater snacks and alcoholic beverages are excluded in these regulations, along with other shortcomings), there are some pretty exciting changes included! Unfortunately, nothing is set in stone yet and if the Supreme Court votes out Obamacare, it might put a damper on menu labeling. Check out Marion Nestle’s Blog, as she is extremely knowledgeable on this topic!

Anyway, the changes are so very exciting regardless of whether or not they are implemented, so lets take a look:

1. The menu-labeling requirement will apply to any retail food establishments with twenty or more locations in the US.
2. Caloric content of all items will be required on all menus (printed menus, menu boards, drive-through menus, online, etc.)
3. More information on calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, and more, must be provided to customers upon request.
4. A statement defining the total daily-recommended calories must also appear on each menu.
5. Vending machines are covered too!
Source: Yale Rudd Center

Menu labeling could have such an amazing impact on the daily food choices Americans make. Of course, many of us will ignore the caloric content and order whatever we want (and that’s perfectly fine), but we still deserve to make that decision for ourselves.

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What’s for lunch?

School nutrition policy seems to be a good place to start for Nutripolicy. It is, after all, a topic at the forefront of the world of nutrition policy (Thank you, First Lady Obama!). I hope we can all agree that the food we serve to our children in public schools is more than just a meal.  Lunch time provides opportunities for us both to teach our children about food and nutrition and to make sure they’re getting important nutrients they may not be getting elsewhere. I would even argue that it is oftentimes the only channel to proper education on nutrition a school-aged child is exposed to.

Let’s face it, most kids don’t go home from school to a MyPlate-esque dinner every night. As the world gets a little crazier and a lot busier, so do parents, and meals must often be rushed.  Pizza. Frozen dinners. Too much food. Not enough food. If this is what we’re being exposed to as kids, it’s what we become accustomed to as adults. But if we eat like that all the time, we are indeed going to have problems later on.

This is where school lunches (and sometimes breakfasts too) come in.  They can provide one-third (or two-thirds) of the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) of protein, Vitamins A&C, iron, calcium, and calories.

Why is change so difficult? 

Changing the way we feed our children is not a simple as it sounds.  The food industry has more than enough reason not to miss a single beat when it comes to school nutrition policy change.  Food corporations are invested in the status quo, and policy change could mean losing hundreds of millions of dollars. In fact, in 2011, the food industry spent $40 million on lobbying efforts.  It is clear how much they have to lose if that is what they are willing to spend annually in order to prevent it.  After all, unhealthy food does cost more than healthy food.  So why would they care about healthy futures when they’re making so much money?

What’s new?

There have been dozens of alterations to child nutrition programs over the past 60+ years (Check them out: School Nutrition Association), but we still have a long way to go.  There had been essentially no improvement over the last 15 years or so, until recently.

In January of this year, Michelle Obama and Tom Vilsack announced exciting new school nutrition guidelines.  The USDA’s comparison chart can best explain these changes (to come in September of this year).  Here are some of the highlights:

  • More fruits and vegetables
  • Weekly requirements for types of vegetables (no more French fries or tomato sauce 5 days a week!)
  • More whole grains (at least half for now, and ALL grains must be whole grain rich by July 2014)
  • Milk must be 1% or fat-free, flavored milk must be fat-free

There is still plenty of work that needs to be done with respect to school lunches and other food-related sales in public schools.  Standards for competitive foods and beverages sold or provided in schools during school hours need to be established.  There should also be some control over what is offered through fundraising, concession stands, and school-related events.  Massachusetts has adopted new policies around all of these cases and many more.

The USDA’s National School Lunch Program has taken a big step in the right direction.  Hopefully we can continue to move forward and generate even greater change over the next several years.