childhood obesity

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?


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 frustrated parents too. On Monday, I got this message from a friend:

“My son’s soccer coach gave me the green light to email parents about the snacks. But after I sent out the snack letter, the coach felt I was dictating what parents can and can’t bring. He asked me send another email clarifying that I was only offering suggestions for healthy snacks.”

I don’t mean to point the finger at coaches. In case you were thinking about leaving an angry comment, please know that I think coaches are terrific. My sons have both had great ones–and I know they want what’s best for kids.

I’m not singling out coaches because this is a common reaction from a lot of different people (including teachers, principals, and preschool directors) to the idea of making rules around the food parents can bring to share with other children. Even though these policies aren’t dictating what parents can serve at home to their own child.

There’s a fear of telling parents what they can and can’t do when it comes to food. A fear of making parents angry. A fear of making policy.

There are loads of other policies in place for keeping our kids safe and healthy when they’re at school and elsewhere–from the little stuff (like not being allowed to wear sandals to gym class and requiring shin guards for soccer practice) to the big stuff (you can’t bring a gun to school and you can’t smoke in or around the building). All of these rules are designed to protect our kids.

But for some reason, nutrition doesn’t seem to carry the same weight.

Even if everyone in the room agrees that an apple is better for a child than a bag of Doritos, people get nervous about saying it out loud–for fear of offending someone who gives their kid Doritos. Trust me when I say that my third grader has had Doritos and thinks they’re the bomb. And I’m not offended. Because guess what? An apple is better for him than Doritos. Fact.

If we want to protect our children’s long-term health and wellness, we have to make policy. If we want to reverse course and see rates of overweight, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and childhood hypertension and high cholesterol drop instead of climb, we have to make policy. If we want our kids to like the taste of real food–instead of feeding them junk at school, church, and sports games and then calling them “picky”–we have to make policy.

It may not always be easy. Though a lot of parents will feel relief, a few parents may get offended. And angry. But why does that matter more than our kids’ health?


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 […]

Read the full article →

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 […]

Read the full article →

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 […]

Read the full article →

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 […]

Read the full article →

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 […]

Read the full article →

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 […]

Read the full article →

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 […]

Read the full article →

Bragging Rights

June 27, 2012

There’s a brand new way to brag about our kids: Talk about how much they hate junk food. It’s not enough that we crow about traveling baseball teams or casually mention the pre-K chess semi-finals. Lately, it seems like a lot of us are quick to recount stories of our children denouncing processed foods. I’m […]

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Read the full article →