childhood obesity

Change Camp Food!

You may be in back-to-school mode, but if you were unhappy with the snacks or meals your child received at summer camp this year, now is the time to speak up. Why now? Because camps are sending out end-of-summer evaluations and surveys–and there’s plenty of time to look at parent feedback and make improvements for next summer.

This summer, I posted a sample email you could cut, paste, customize, and send to camp directors about junk food snacks (access it here). Turns out, Melanie of Cultivate Wellness found my post while searching for a way to express her displeasure about the food her daughter was getting at camp. She used it as a template to send a letter to the camp director. When she told me, I asked if I could post it here as another great resource for you:

Dear [Camp Director],

My daughter  is really enjoying her fifth year at [name of camp]. The smiles and stories she has every day when she comes home are priceless! Thank you for making it such a success!!!

She has filled me in on the food items provided at the overnight as well as the picnic lunch from last week. From what I understand it was Doritos with cheese and meat and “camp cones” (marshmallows, ice cream cones and chocolate) for the lunch, and when I picked her up from the overnight for a sporting event, she was eating Pop-Tarts, Froot Loops and chocolate chip pancakes. With the childhood diabetes and obesity rates rising higher and higher, I am wondering if you would be willing to consider some different items in the future. In fact, on the welcome flyer sent home with my daughter, one of your areas of focus is Healthy Living: Improving the nation’s health and well-being.

I am not opposed to treats, in fact, we incorporate treats into our lives at home in moderation. However, the overwhelming amount of sugar and trans-fats and processed food provided at the camp meals is concerning to me (and probably many other parents as well).

Bananas, air popped pop­corn and clemen­tines are per­fect exam­ples of inex­pen­sive foods that would help sat­isfy kids’ hunger, fuel them for camp, and ben­e­fit their bod­ies. For breakfast, might I suggest limiting it to just one of the sugary items and supplementing with scrambled eggs to provide some healthy protein. For the cookout, even grass fed local hot dogs with whole wheat buns, or even the Walking Tacos made with plain tortilla chips would be a better choice.

Perhaps I’m the only mom to have spo­ken up, but I am quite sure that with the health crisis our country is experiencing (where this generation of children is the first in centuries to be expected not to live longer than their parents did) that there are many other parents who are equally as con­cerned about junk food in their kids’ diets–and would be happy to know that the [name of camp] is help­ing by pro­vid­ing healthy snacks. And even if the parents aren’t clued in to the dangers of eating excessive amounts of sugar, trans fats and processed foods, I think you could do a real service in helping kids and families learn about healthy eating.

I know that the you care about our kids and want the best for them. Return­ing campers might miss all the processed food at first, but I think they would for­get about them quickly and grow to love and appre­ci­ate the healthy offer­ings just as much. My daughter mentioned that she was trying to figure out what was the healthier option at breakfast — the Froot Loops or the Frosted Flakes. It would be great for kids to go to camp knowing they don’t even have to think about that kind of thing.

Please consider this in the long run. I would be happy to work with you on choosing items that work for your budget and storage needs. Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I really do appreciate all your hard work.

Sin­cerely,

Melanie

Though she hasn’t heard back from the camp yet, Melanie sent a similar one to another camp director and got this response.

Hello Melanie,

I’m glad to hear you daughter enjoyed camp! We like to see campers having fun and learning new things.

I appreciate your feedback on snacks. It’s something we’ve long struggled with because of our budget constraints and sheer volume of campers we host. We’re currently working towards offering more healthy options in upcoming camps. Thanks again for your feedback!

Bottom line: Camp food doesn’t have to be all junk. Camp directors need to hear from parents. Parents CAN make a difference.

For more about camp food, read Camp Snacks: The Sequel and Changing Camp Snacks For The Better.

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Ambushed by Big Soda on the Soccer Field

by Sally on April 19, 2013

Something happened on the soccer fields last weekend that made cupcakes seem tame by comparison: A rep from 7 Up worked the crowd, offering free diet soda to parents and kids.

When I found out about this through some friends–and confirmed it with a call to our rec center–I felt my blood pressure rise about 50 points.

What’s the big deal? After all, it was diet soda, not regular. And parents and kids could simply say no if they didn’t want it.

It’s a big deal because it was wrong. Because the soda industry is smart and dangerous and knows where to find kids. Because there’s a predatory nature to their marketing  that gives me the creeps.  Their goal is to make a connection with people and establish brand loyalty–the earlier (and younger) the better.

If you think I’m being dramatic, consider the words from former Coca-Cola  exec Todd Putman, who revealed last year that they specifically targeted children in their marketing:

“…Magically, when they would turn 12, we’d suddenly attack them like a bunch of wolves. I would say 90 percent of all soft drink marketing is targeted at 12- to 24-year-olds. . . .It was how we spent all of our time…It represented a lifetime of opportunity.”

And this warning, from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity:

“Sugary drinks are the most unhealthy food product marketed to children and are relentlessly and aggressively targeted toward them…Food and beverage companies spent more to market sugary drinks to children and adolescents than they spent marketing any other food or beverage category to that group.”

The fact that is was diet soda on our soccer fields makes it worse to me. The soda companies are currently using low-calorie drinks in a campaign to distract from soda’s probable link to overweight, obesity, and diseases like diabetes. They hold up these beverages as proof that they care about our health–and to reassure us that we don’t have to stop drinking soda if we want to be healthy.

But in reality, diet soda is linked to conditions such as metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. See the real truth about what soda is doing to health in this video here from the Center for Science in the Public Interest and this parody of a Coke commercial here.

In his defense, the man in charge of our soccer league didn’t actually know about the soda incident until after the fact. I was told that 7-Up (or likely Pepsico) has a city-wide contract to provide vending, so it’s possible that giveaways like this one are just part of the deal. I shared my concerns with him, and he said he understood. I hope he thinks of those concerns if he has the choice to refuse these giveaways in the future.

Soda companies claim they don’t market to very young kids. So why did Pepsico come to our soccer fields on a Saturday morning, where the average age of the players is roughly seven? And does this kind of insidious marketing–an attempt to hook young people onto something that’s bad for their health–remind you of anything else?

It’s no wonder health activists are calling the soft drink industry Big Soda. Because they seem an awful lot like Big Tobacco. And we certainly wouldn’t allow them on the Saturday morning soccer fields, would we?

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Why Are We Afraid Of Telling Parents What To Do?

April 13, 2013

Lately I’ve gotten a lot of success stories from parents who have joined the ranks of “That Mom”. They’ve spoken up and changed the snack culture in their child’s class or sports team (read “Change the Snack Culture: 3 Steps to Take Now” and  “Be Bold. Take Action. Make Change.“). But occasionally, I hear from […]

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Change The Snack Culture: 3 Steps to Take Now

April 4, 2013

Two years ago, I had a “light bulb moment” about snacking when I saw a mom and her child on the playground one day (read: “Snacking Insanity“). Since that moment, I’ve become much more aware of the snacks my kids are getting–and what I see isn’t good. It’s a problem, and not just in my […]

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Why I’m Worried About Chocolate Milk

March 4, 2013

It’s not for the obvious reasons. Though I get passionate about junk at school parties and junk at school breakfasts (read: “I Have No Love for Candy Valentines” and “The Trouble with School Breakfast“), I haven’t gotten fired up about chocolate milk. I know lots of people disagree–and I totally get why they do. I’d love […]

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We Ate Junk Food And Turned Out Just Fine…Right?

February 25, 2013

When I talk to people about soccer snacks or class parties or more recently, candy Valentines (read: “I Have No Love for Candy Valentines“), the discussion invariably turns to how how things were when we were kids: “But we had class parties, ate candy, and washed down birthday cupcakes with cherry Kool-Aid. And we turned […]

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The Trouble With School Breakfast

February 22, 2013

Seven words I never thought I’d hear my 8-year-old son say: “Mommy, I’m getting sick of Cocoa Puffs.” I don’t buy Cocoa Puffs. My son has been eating them at school as part of the free breakfast program. I am not happy about this. For months, I have wrestled with what to do about school […]

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Be Bold. Take Action. Make Change.

January 5, 2013

I meet a lot of parents who are angry about how their kids are being fed. They’re mad about school lunches and cookie dough fundraisers, about sugary snacks at preschool, about doughnuts on the soccer sidelines. But only a few of these parents act on their anger. Some don’t want to rock the boat or […]

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The Fabulous Food Stamp Diet!

December 5, 2012

Forget South Beach. Or The Abs Diet. Or the Raw Food Detox Diet. The quickest way to zip up those skinny jeans is to go on food stamps! At least that’s what Fox News’ Andrea Tantaros thinks. In a discussion about Newark mayor Cory Booker’s move to eat on a budget equivalent to food stamps (aka […]

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On the Front Lines of Snack-tivism

July 25, 2012

My son’s day camp at the local university had everything going for it: Flexible drop-off for working parents, after-care swim lessons, a full day of sports and activities that made bedtime blessedly early. But alas: The snacks. The first day, the campers were given Fruit Roll-Ups and Powerade. The next, it was Cinnamon Toast Crunch […]

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