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?


Lines in the Sand

by Sally on November 23, 2009

Cloth or disposable, breast or bottle, attachment parenting or cry-it-out. When you become a mother, they’re some of the Big Choices you’re faced with right off the bat. But even when you’re past the baby stage—when your Diaper Champ can no longer contain the stinkiness and everyone is (kind of, sort of, almost) sleeping through the night—you’re still left with dozens of Big Choices to make everyday, ones that have a much greater impact than Pampers or Fuzzi Bunz: What to put on your child’s plate.

As moms, we’re no stranger to judgment—even from, well, strangers. (I never thought well-meaning elderly women actually said, “Oh my, don’t you think that baby needs a hat?” until it happened to me.) But if you’ve ever caught flak for spit-shining a paci, try being a dietitian at a corn-dogs-and-Doritos-type party with your kids. “Really? You let Henry eat that?”

The current debate among dietitians sparked by the Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk campaign—whether chocolate milk in schools is a good way for kids to get calcium or just more sugar for a generation that doesn’t need it—got me thinking about the choices we all make when feeding our kids. About how those choices, just like the early baby-days decisions, can be complicated and personal. And about how vastly different those choices can look, mom to mom—even when those moms are dietitians. Sure, we all try to follow the basics: lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats. But when it comes to the nitty-gritty details, we’re all over the map.

Personally, I lean old-school. I’m one of those “all foods fit” types, because while I strive to make healthful choices 90-ish percent of the time, I don’t want to live in a world without pizza and cupcakes. Or chocolate milk, for that matter. And I don’t want my kids to live there either.

I guess that might be surprising, for those who subscribe to the berries-and-organic-twigs notion of what a dietitian eats (and feeds her kids). But I also have my lines in the sand: I’m okay with a sweet treat everyday, but my kindergartener has never tasted soda. I don’t mind the kids’ menu for (albeit extremely rare) family restaurant outings, but I absolutely refuse to keep hot dogs or chicken nuggets in the house. I see no problem with day-glo-pink squeeze yogurts for Henry’s lunchbox, but you won’t ever catch me buying gummy fruit snacks.

How about you: What seemingly forboden foods don’t faze you? And where do you draw the line?

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