Pushing Sugary Cereals on Kids

True story: I’m driving in the car with my 4 year old daughter, Liza, when “Happy Together” by The Turtles’ comes on the radio. I sing, “I can’t see me lovin’ nobody but you. For all my life…When you’re with me, baby the skies’ll be blue. For all my life…” That’s when Liza faces me with puzzled look and says, “But where’s the part about the complete breakfast?” Punk’d! TV advertising to kids! She’s talking about the 1980’s Golden Grahams Cereal Commercial. Golden Grahams, those toasted squares of whole wheat and corn sweetened with honey and brown sugar, with 3.6 teaspoons of sugar in a mere ¼ cup.

The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University recently issued a follow-up to their 2009 report, Cereal FACTS. They found the cereals most aggressive advertized to children rank at the bottom in in terms of nutrition and at the top in added sugars. In 2011, the average 6- to 11-year-old saw more than 700 TV ads for cereals, or almost 2 ads every day, and the preschoolers saw nearly as many. The majority of cereal ads seen by children are for products consisting of one-third or more sugar. A bowl o’ sugar, indeed!

The funny thing is that, in 2009, the big three cereal companies – General Mills, Kellogg and Post – pledged to the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative – the food industry’s self-regulatory program – to improve the nutritional quality of cereals marketed directly to children and to advertise the healthier cereals. Three years later, the companies did improve nutrition somewhat in many kid’s cereals, but total media spending on child-targeted cereals increased by 34% and most ads were for the least nutritious products.

Honestly, people, the food industry is not going to police itself! Vote with your wallet to save you family. Feed kids spoon-size shredded wheat, Cheerios, Kashi Go Lean, oatmeal, and other cereals that are high in fiber but low in sugar, fat and sodium, and free of saturated- and trans-fat. Ideally, one serving of a good cereal will provide no more than 8 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fat, and 140 mg of sodium, but with about 5 grams of fiber and a whole grain listed as the first ingredient. Fortified cereals provide significant nutrients, but fortification does not supply all of the nutrients in whole grains. And remember, cereal is made healthier by adding milk and fruit.

Read a summary of the Yale Rudd Center report, Cereal FACTS 2012: A Spoonful of Progress in a Bowl Full of Unhealthy Marketing to Kids.

Your thoughts: What have you noticed about cereal and kids?

Brooklyn Is Like a Tropical Vacation

Heat or no heat, Brooklyn feels like a tropical vacation. I mean where else do you see an orange peeler machine, the kind that turns the orange round-and-round while the peel falls away in a ribbon? That’s because Brooklyn is Hispanic among other nationalities, especially during the summer.

Case In Point: I was walking to Staples to buy ink cartridges, as self-employed people do, past vacant lots and bodegas on a busy two-lane street, when I caught sight of a fruit drink operation. There was a truck with lots and lots of fresh fruit, condensed milk, sugar and sugar cane, juice, water, ice, and a blender powered by a simple motor. The fruit man was from the Dominican Republic and the set-up belonged to his cousin. (So many cousins!) A small drink (12-ounces) sold for $4.00 and a large was $6.00. I got a small pineapple-banana-milk “smoothie” and it was tasty, aromatic, filling, and light. The fruit man sold four smoothies in the 15 minutes I was there. That unlikely location turned out to be a goldmine for him and, as the gringos say, a win-win all around.

Pedal Power, Think About It

This woman is using a stationary bicycle to power a generator to run electrical devices. The generator might be on the other side of the blue tarp. The picture was taken at Zucotti Park, the Occupy Wall Street camp in New York City last fall. When you think about it, why aren’t we using human power to generate electricity and turn mechanical cranks more often? Pedal power offers so many solutions: fuel, exercise, disaster-preparedness, and “the obesity crisis”. Pedal power could be mandatory to run laptops and TVs. (Calories burned: Stationary Bicycle: 333/hour; Sitting Quietly: 47/hour) There is really no reason NOT to have a pedal power generator. Even in my small apartment, I could keep the apparatus in the basement. To bring pedal power into your life, read this article: Pedal powered farms and factories: the forgotten future of the stationary bicycle

Your thoughts: Do you know anyone who generates energy by pedal power?

Helping Cassey Ho

Cassey Ho is a Pilates instructor, YouTube fitness guru, blogger and online community leader, and designer of yoga bags. When you count her blog subscribers and social networking fans, she has around 185,000 followers. Cassey is an exceptionally hard-working young woman who will probably go far in the fitness world. I met Cassey online a few weeks ago when I helped her with a dilemma.

Cassey wrote: Lately, some of my fans have attacked me for “triggering” their eating disorder and body image disorder tendencies because I’ve been talking extra about weight loss and dieting because it’s bikini season. The blog that started it is Best Celebrity Bikini Bodies…thanks to PILATES!  Some have said that I may have an eating disorder or body image disorder myself! They’ve even gone as far as to say that I should have my posts looked over by a psychologist to analyze the potential messages I am sending out. As a professional, what do you think?

I wrote back:  I think “triggers” are everywhere for people with psychological disorders. I believe that anyone who feels vulnerable should beware of potentially triggering experiences that they can control (e.g. don’t buy fashion magazines, don’t visit certain websites or watch certain TV shows, etc.) The really difficult triggers are those stressful life situations, including trauma and loss, that they can’t control. Ideally, a trigger will start a conversation. It is rich material for mental health therapy.

As to whether celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Cassey Ho have disordered eating patterns, I cannot say without a proper assessment. But Americans, and the world for that matter, like their celebrities to be thin. Most celebrities exercise an lot and are very careful not to over-eat. How else could they look that way? They have millions of dollars resting on it.

But when does self-care – a desire to exercise and eat right – turn into a disorder? When a person’s “love for diet and exercise” precludes enjoying a variety of wholesome foods in the amount needed to maintain a healthy weight, and when someone’s exercise program is so intense that it leads to injuries, exhaustion, and irritability, then that’s a problem. But, if not, then go girl! Cassey’s readers, and anyone, should take The Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26), the most widely used, standardized self-report measure of concerns and symptoms of eating and exercise disorders. It is a screening test that indicates a need for professional evaluation.

The Dilemma

Heck, I owe my bikini (or one piece swimsuit) body to Pilates. I go to Pilates three times a week and try never to miss. But for non-celebrities like me, after a certain point, say 60 minutes of exercise 5-6 times a week and healthy eating 85 percent of the time, chasing the perfect body has diminishing returns. After health habits are in check, time is better spent working on inner qualities and making the world a better place. How about helping the SPARK Movement, a girl-fueled activist movement, to demand an end to the sexualization of women and girls in media. They are collaborating with hundreds of girls ages 13 to 22. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t take diet advice from a celebrity! As I told Diets In Review, Miley Cyrus Stays Trim Following a Gluten-Free Diet is not a good idea. Every modified diet, including vegan and raw food diets, carries a nutritional risk because so many foods are omitted.

Cassey had many more questions, and you can read my answers at Bringing it to Light: Eating Disorders on Bloglates.com. I thank Cassey for trusting my professional advice, and I wish her smooth sailing in her work to bring health to the masses.

Your thoughts: Have you ever wondered if you have an eating or body image disorder?

Shut Up and Eat Your Damn Vegetables!

Just as I was getting ready to yell about vegetables, I saw this, “Expert: Don’t yell at kids to eat veggies.” Okay, I won’t yell as much.  But I am kind of cranky because, in a random search, I came across an “Interview with Nutritionist Mary Hartley from CalorieCount.com” and I remember having to answer OKway too many questions in the briefest amount of time. The Cutest Kid Ever wanted to know:

  • Do you think that restaurants will start adding lower calorie options to the menu, or cutting portion sizes in half, now that they will be required to include calorie counts on their menus?
  • What foods do you recommend for nursing mothers?
  • What are the best free (oh okay, or paid) nutrition resources on or offline?
  • For those of us who have already switched to diet soda, reduced fat cheese, leaner cuts of meat, etc. – what are some other “small changes” we can make to feed a picky family healthier meals?
  • Do you have any suggestions for feeding kids with Asperger Syndrome?

Cutest Kid Ever, you sure do ask a lot of questions for a mommy-blogger!
But I will answer your one question that I am asked over and over again:

Q: I hate veggies, especially those that are cooked. How can I eat more? What are some alternative foods people can eat to get the nutrients they’re not getting in vegetables?

A: Shut up and eat your damn vegetables!

(That’s a joke.) I really said,  “First, you have to STOP saying that you hate vegetables because it is a self-fulfilling statement. If you hate cooked vegetables, then eat raw vegetables. Learn how to make a killer salad with a good home made dressing, or dip raw veggies in hummus, salad dressing or a yogurt dip.  And please don’t say you hate all vegetables when you haven’t come close to trying every one. Find five vegetables to like. Carrots, green beans, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, pepper strips (red, yellow, orange, or green), cucumber spears, portabella mushrooms, beets, kale, cabbage? Try them all. Widening your repertoire during the summer because local vegetables in season always taste best. Add veggies wherever they fit: tomato slices on a sandwich, or how about avocado, roasted peppers, eggplant, red onion, or sprouts? Pizza is a vehicle for lots of vegetables, as are soups, stews, and omelets. Do you saute vegetables with herbs and garlic? Do you know how to grill and roast vegetables? If not, then that’s a problem. Do not serve unseasoned, overcooked, smelly, single vegetables because they aren’t tasty! You must learn how to cook vegetables properly.

In terms of alternative foods that offer the same nutrients, note that fruit, grains, and “meat group” (beans, nuts seeds, and eggs) have many of the same nutrients; however, vegetables are the original “nutrient-dense” food. For hardly any calories, vegetables provide vitamins B1, A, C, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, iron, and other nutrients, as well as carbohydrates, fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals – phew!

And, even though 93.6 percent of Americans don’t hit their vegetable target, like brushing your teeth and paying your bills, eating your vegetables is not optional!

Your thoughts: What advice do you have for vegetable-deniers?