Recently, a company introduced a chocolate-flavored toddler formula to the market, claiming that it would encourage picky eaters to get more of the nutrition they needed. Sounds good, right? The problem came when you took time to read the label – one of the first three ingredients in this formula was sugar! In fact, the chocolate formula had 19 grams of sugar per serving.
19 grams of sugar in one serving. One serving of a drink going into the body of a 12- to 36-month-old child.
Parents and nutritionists were outraged, and rightfully so. In light of the childhood obesity epidemic in America and around the world, the last thing that infant formula makers should be doing is creating products that help children develop a craving for sweets. We must help very young children develop healthy eating habits right from the start.
This story has a happy ending. The company has decided to pull their chocolate-flavored formula from the marketplace. It will no longer be available for sale. (Sadly, the vanilla-flavored formula, with 18 grams of sugar, will remain in stores.)
Parents have a lot of power over the companies that make children’s food. You are not helpless. You get to decide what your children put into their mouths. At least until they are old enough to start leaving the nest a bit. That’s why it’s so important to teach them proper eating habits when they’re young.
Putting Power into Practice
The Power of Your Voice
The chocolate-flavored formula story is a terrific example of the power of parents speaking up. Make your thoughts known. When the chocolate-flavored formula was introduced to the market, influential bloggers shared their thoughts online, most notably Marion Nestle, a professor at NYU and the nutrition expert who writes a popular blog about food politics. (An ironic name for a woman speaking out against chocolate.)
Regular moms and dads took up the fight, and you know the rest. You, too, can write letters and emails to the food companies. Believe me, they read the letters they receive, and they listen. You are their target market. They want to stay on your good side.
You can also write to the press and to bloggers. Let the world know when you see something that isn’t right. You may feel that the power of one voice is insignificant, but the power of a thousand voices combined grows exponentially.
The Power of Your Pocketbook
Don’t buy junk food. For the sake of your children, don’t even buy it for yourself. Remember, it’s a lot easier to resist temptation at the grocery store than it is to resist temptation at home. If you don’t buy it, it won’t call to you from the pantry, or to your kids.
Junk food undermines your efforts to teach kids good eating habits. Allowing junk food in your home teaches kids to reach for bad food choices, often when they’re not even hungry.
Make it a practice to read labels at the store. You don’t have to understand everything on the label, but do look at the number of calories, the amount of salt, and the amount of sugar. You will start to see patterns, and you’ll learn which foods are good for your kids.
Another way to exercise the power of your pocketbook is to stop allowing your children to watch commercial TV. It’s always good to limit screen time (including both the television and the computer), but it’s also important to determine what type of screen time your kids are allowed. Studies have shown that kids who watch commercial TV are more likely to be overweight or obese than kids who watch DVDs and television shows without commercials.
When your kids don’t see commercials, they don’t crave food that is bad for them. It will make your visits to the grocery store much more pleasant, as your children won’t plead with you to buy these high-salt, high-sugar, low-nutrition foods.
As a parent, you have more power than you realize over childhood obesity. All it takes is awareness and a conscious effort to do everything you can to ensure that your children eat healthy, well-balanced meals. The habits they develop today will influence them for the rest of their lives. Help them to avoid all the health problems associated with being fat. They will thank you for it one day.
And if there’s a picky eater in your family, talk to your pediatrician about healthy strategies to encourage him or her to eat more. Don’t reach for products like chocolate formula.