Have a Complicated Halloween

Halloween Letter Fargo MomDid you see the Halloween letter from Anonymous Mom? She is handing it out instead of candy to overweight kids. Her stand against childhood obesity made the media outlets. Too bad she doesn’t know that shaming doesn’t work. Weight prejudice seems to be socially acceptable now and will become more so when healthcare costs are transparent. But back to today and the conflicts Americans have about Halloween candy. Check out yesterday’s Tweets:

  • How to talk to your kids about Halloween candy.
  • Watch out for these common (and gross!) ingredients in Halloween candy.
  • Don’t get caught giving petroleum, GMOs, and trans fat to little children.
  • Artificial dyes linked to M+Ms.
  • What it takes to burn off your Halloween treats.
  • Food Allergies: Could Halloween Kill My Child?
  • 7 Terrifying Facts About Halloween Candy!

Danger! Danger! And still, the kids return with their sacks full.

A few years ago, I was asked to write about the “healthiest” Halloween candy. What could I say? “Give out candy that won’t get eaten.” Dum Dum Lollipops, wax lips, and candy buttons stuck on paper tape. Nobody eats those. Pencils, stickers, and temporary tattoos, All good. As you can image, my Dietitian’s Guide to Halloween Candy wasn’t well received. The comments tell all.

Realistically, Halloween night is a free-for all. Everybody eats candy. That goes on for another day or two, but sooner rather than later, candy is rationed to one piece at lunch and another after school. Some is shared with grown-ups or relegated to the freezer or traded with a friendly dentist for cash. (Just don’t dump candy on the Food Bank because needy people need real food!)

I’ve stated my feelings about junk before in Eat Only the Junk Food That You Make. But homemade doesn’t fly on Halloween because of hidden razor blades. Oy! Razor blades, artificial dyes, barbs from Anonymous Mom. Halloween is complicated.

Your thoughts: What is your Halloween candy plan?

Toddlers & Tiaras & Energy Juice

I hope my upscale readers will forgive me for mentioning an odd thing that happened last month. Twice, I was asked to comment on Honey Boo Boo, a fat 6-year old from “Toddlers & Tiaras,” an uber trashy TV show on TLC. I was asked about the “Go-go Juice” that mama feeds to Honey Boo Boo to make her dazzle on stage. Watch them talk about it here.

Question: “Does offering an energy drink to a 6-year old constitute child abuse?”
Answer:     Well, yes it does, in my opinion, but this is ‘merica, the land of the free, and so, officially, I say,  “The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that all drinks with caffeine (e.g. Red Bull) are off limits to children and teenagers. Energy drinks contain high levels of stimulants that can raise heart rate and anxiety levels and increase the risk of dehydration.” And then Mountain Dew soda has even more caffeine along with water, preservatives, artificial flavors, and empty calories from sugar. Go-go juice is a bad idea for anyone, most especially a child.

In 2010, the F.D.A. issued warning letters to makers of energy drinks that combine alcohol and caffeine citing a health risk, and recently, the state of New York’s attorney general began investigating whether companies that make energy drinks are misleading the public about how much caffeine the drinks contain and the health risks they could pose.

Honey Boo Boo’s pediatrician needs to address her consumption of energy drinks and junk food, as well as her childhood obesity, but given the family and the public’s attention, I don’t think it will work. Honey Boo Boo can serve as an example of what not to do. ’nuff said.

Your thoughts: Do you see little kids drinking energy drinks?

Fruit Pouches and Foie Gras

I knew they were Trouble with a capital T when I first saw them at a trade show. Have you seen the plastic pouches of squeezable fruit being marketed to kids? It is literally puréed fruit (well, a bit of vegetable, grain, or milk may walk through) in a plastic disposable pouch for preschoolers to eat on the run. This New York Times article, Putting the Squeeze on a Family Ritual, made me sick.
Puréed Fruit is Fabulous Food

Puréed fruit is delicious on yogurt and ice cream and it is perfect for shakes, cocktails, vinegars, shrubs, fruit soups, muffins and cakes and as a sauce for meat, fish, eggs and cheese. It is indispensable in French jellies pastes, mousse cakes and mascarpone creams, but to pour it down a toddler’s throat? Non, non and non!

Missed Opportunities

Realize this: Children NEED to chew. The formation of the jaw and the muscles of the face depends on chewing. And children NEED to sit-down to eat meals and snacks to learn what and how to eat and how to socialize at the family table. If an over-pouched child were to present for a behavioral feeding  assessment, the parents would lose points for (1) substituting easy “stand-in food” for structured meals and snacks; (2) making use of developmentally inappropriate food textures; and (3) adding too much simple sugar to the diet.  Sucking sugar also destroys the teeth.

Q: How is a toddler strapped in a stroller sucking on fruit pouch like a “foie gras” goose?”
A: Both are force fed simple carbohydrates while being denied exercise. 

“Foie gras” is French for “fat liver.” Geese and ducks are fed carbohydrates until their livers expand full of fat that tastes like yummy butter. A goose can be gorged with gavage feeding or left to gorge naturally on fruit. The Romans fed their geese dried figs to make foie gras. And so, if you see a fruit sucking preschooler develop fatty liver in a few years, remember you heard it from me first. But, please, don’t let it happen!

Your thoughts: Is this a New York thing or do kids everywhere have fruit pouches?

Watch Stephen Colbert blow the truthiness whistle on fruit pouches in “Thought for Food.”

If You See Something, Say Something

The New York MTA subway voice calls out: “If You See Something, Say Something.”  Does this count?

Yesterday, I saw a young mom and her sons, ages four and two, sitting next to me on the 2 Line from Brooklyn to Manhattan. The children were clean and well-behaved, mostly because they were busy eating ample portions of candy. The older boy had a 1.5 ounce Kit Kat bar, the one that comes in four long pieces. With 210 calories and 11 grams of fat, I imagine it was quite filling and bound to spoil his supper. Pity it doesn’t contain nutrients. The little guy, not much of a talker, had a shiny yellow bag full of sticky, tooth-tugging nuggets. Mom had candy too, but she was further away.  All of the candy came from her purse.

I chose to say nothing as is customary. It’s not my place to help the mom see that special treats are not for everyday and that parents can show their children love and attention in other ways. It’s not my place to talk about the difficult battle she faces because children are exposed to an estimated 10,000 advertisements for food per year, 95% of which are for fast foods, candy, sugared cereal and soft drinks.(1) It’s not my place to explain that children need nutrients to grow and blossom, and their lifelong eating habits are being shaped, along with their patterns of fighting their biological preferences for sweets and salt, which will face them forever unless there’s a fundamental change. No, my eavesdropping had nothing to do with an unattended package or suspicious behavior, and so what could I say?

And one more thing: neither of the boys was overweight. If they had been, a subset of the population would have justified saying something. But, you know, some people just gain weight more easily on the same crappy diet. And that’s why it’s not fair to stigmatize fat kids. (Read about genetic obesity issues in my blog, Newspaper Ad Mocks Obese Women.)

Your thoughts: Do children belong to society? Should we say something?

1. Schwartz, M.B. and Puhl, R. Childhood Obesity: a Societal Problem to Solve. The International Association for the Study of Obesity, Obesity Reviews. 2003:4, 57–71