Sunday, October 30, 2005

Party Pooper

The education section of the Washington Post today carried an article about the demise of the school party in "At Many Elementary Schools, the Party's Over." The reason for limiting, or eliminating, the cupcakes, candies and other junk food is due to the rise in childhood obesity.

Schools, where many children eat two of their day's meals, are being pushed to the front lines of the battle against kiddie bulge. A federal law requires schools to create wellness policies that encourage students to be more active and eat more healthfully. Some schools in Virginia have started exercise clubs. In Maryland, schools are cracking down on vending-machine junk food.

Now, there is a focus on school parties, said Margo Wootan, a policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based nutrition advocacy group. The birthday party, the Halloween party, the Valentine's Day party, the end-of-the-year party -- all are centered on junk food, according to the advocacy group.

The article cites the grave statistics which show that in the period from 1980 through 2002, the incidence of overweight children has skyrocketed from 7% to 16% for kids aged 6 to 11. More alarming is the number of tweens and teens who are classified as obese - up from 5% in 1980 to 16% in 2002.

One really does have to think about what is driving this trend in childhood obesity.

Is it children viewing Cookie Monster eating cookies, pre-schoolers playing Candyland and children indulging in cupcakes at class birthday parties, or something else? Are we, as a nation, over-reacting when we no longer want to allow children to celebrate a birthday or holiday with a treat - especially the 84% who are "normal" weight?

My readers know I am all about good nutrition and eating well. I'm also realistic and understand the value of teaching children how to actually live in this world - a world littered with poor food choices, junk food and outright garbage promoted as "food" for the masses.

Somehow, eliminating cupcakes at the class birthday party, in my mind, seems just a tad hypocritical when the "healthier" option included in the article were apple slices with caramel. A small cupcake (frosted) has about the same calories and sugar - so what's the point in eliminating the cupcake?

What? Does it make the parents and policy makers somehow feel better? Do they think they've done something to reduce the risk of obesity if the kids are eating apple slices and caramel instead of cupcakes? If it's the same calorie and sugar-load, nothing has changed except the "package" it is delivered to the metabolism - it is still a sugary treat that will have the same result.

And, the real deal is this - it isn't the cupcakes per se, it's the health damaging ingredients they're made with - the trans-fats, the refined white flour, the processed sugar - all adding to the metabolic burden the body, a child's body, must work to counter after eaten.

Add to that the poor diet too many children are eating daily - packaged, processed foods; fast foods; too few vegetables; too much junk and way too much soda - with much less physicial activity each day...and is it any wonder obesity is a growing problem?

The solution isn't to eliminate the very things that make childhood so memorable, like your special day at school when it's your eighth birthday and everyone in your class gets to celebrate with you. The solution simply isn't that simple - banning cupcakes or other treats will not stop children from eating poorly - not when that's exactly how their parents allow them to eat each day!

We are fooling ourselves if we think apple slices with caramel are "healthier." Oh, yes, they do sound better - after all, it is a treat with apples now, isn't it?

Hey, why not apple-spice cupcakes with cream cheese frosting instead? When made using healthful ingredients, such an option can not only reduce the sugar to about 12g per cupcake (down from 24g), but can also deliver fresh apples, nuts, cheese and spices (which are rich in essential nutrients) and eliminate the trans-fats and processed/refined ingredients too! But, ya know what - that takes time - and it's simply easier to just ban the cupcakes than to invest the time to make a treat that is healthy, isn't it?

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