I applaud First Lady Michelle Obama on her efforts to fight childhood obesity. Honestly, if she can make a difference, that might be the best legacy of the Obama administration, giving our kids a chance at lives healthier than our own.
The food industry is starting to react towards the positive. Coca-Cola, Pepsi & Dr Pepper, through their lobbying group AmeriBev, have begun running ads saying they are reducing, immediately, the number of calories in school soft drink vending machines by 88%. The companies have not gone into details, but the ads state that the machines will be stocked more with water, diet drinks, smaller portions, and sports drinks.
The three soft drink giants have also agreed to start more prominent labeling of “company controlled” machines (those they own directly and not managed by outside suppliers) including putting the calorie count on the selection button you push to deliver your drink.
This is a first step, but by no means should you be throwing your hands up and shouting, “Hallelujah!” I still have some issues:
1. Sports drinks frequently have as much sugar as a regular soda, which contains about 9 1/2 teaspoons of sugar per 12-ounce can. Both regular soda and sports drinks are frequently sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is often maligned by the health industry as a contributing factor in childhood obesity, among a host of other medical issues.
2. The companies are lobbying to have a “total liquid consumption” amount added to the new USDA guidelines coming out later this year. To me, this sounds like nothing more than an attempt to “officially” encourage people to drink fluids when they’ve never been encouraged before. As far as I can tell, I don’t think Americans are dying of dehydration because they failed to consume their recommended daily consumption of “fluids.”
3. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr Pepper are continuing to stock fruit juices in vending machines and, in fact, it appears they’ll begin highlighting them. Fruit juices are better, but only in moderation; if a child swaps out soda for fruit juice they likely won’t be saving that many calories. Fruit juices have also been associated with an increase in dental problems for children.
4. While the companies are changing serving sizes and calorie counts to reflect 12-ounce servings, for fruit juices these will remain at 8 ounces. This means if consumers are just looking for the number of calories, but portion sizes aren’t equal (both 12 ounces), then your kid could likely think they’re consuming less calories than they actually are.
The move to healthier eating, and drinking, is starting to work, but we need to keep up the pressure and force real changes. Let’s see a ban on HFCS in schools. Or how about banning artificial sweeteners? or heck, how about going into the cafeterias and stop labeling french fries as a “vegetable.”
What do you think?