II. WHAT ARE OUR CHILDREN EATING?
Instead of helping our kids we are hurting them by feeding them junk food. Typical “kid food” consists of highly processed foods that contain a considerable amount of sugar, calories, fat, and sodium.14 The United States Department of Agriculture’s (“USDA”) ChooseMyPlate website provides Dietary Guidelines for a “healthy diet.”15 They describe a healthy diet for anyone over 2 years old as one that: (1) emphasizes fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fat free or low fat dairy products; (2) lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, nuts; (3) low in saturated fats, trans fat, sodium, cholesterol, and added sugars.16 A teaspoon of sugar contains 4 grams of sugar.17 The USDA suggests 6-12 teaspoons a day of added sugar for a 1,600 – 2,200 calorie diet for a total of 24-48 grams of sugar.18 Added sugars are recommended in moderation, and they identify these on food labels as: high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, fructose, maltose, sucrose, etc.19
The foods being heavily marketed to children contain a significant number of the added sugars.20 For example, a typical American child’s breakfast can consist of a Kellogg’s Pop-Tart which contains 19 grams of sugars.21 The first several ingredients listed in Pop-Tarts consists of added sugars, e.g. corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, sugar.22 The food industry heavily promotes sugary cereals such as Fruit Loops and Cocoa Puffs, which include a significant amount of sugar, 12 grams per serving and list sugar as the first or second ingredient.23
The options for children’s lunches seem to be just as unhealthy, for example a Kids Cuisine Carnival Dog meal, contain 420 calories, 12 grams of fat, 660 mg sodium, and 20 grams of sugar.24 The ingredients include: corn syrup, corn starch, high fructose corn syrup, honey, dextrose, etc. an obvious abundance of added sugars.25 If one combines these breakfast and lunch options, children consume approximately 32-40 grams of added sugars and this doesn’t include the beverages your child may be drinking. For instance, a Capri Sun Surfer Cooler consists of 16 grams of sugar26 the ingredients include juices from concentrate, which the USDA defines as added sugars, which should be consumed sparingly.27
Over consumption of sodium leads to serious health risks by creating high blood pressure.28 A variety of soups high in sodium aim to peak children’s and parent’s interest by marketing them with cartoon characters.29 For example, Campbell’s Kid Soup product line contains promotional characters from Disney, Dreamworks, Nickelodeon, and yet, each serving contains 480mg of sodium per serving.30 The can contains two and a half servings, for a total of 1200mg of sodium in one child’s meal.31 Furthermore, a typical can of Chef Boyardee consists of over 2000mg of sodium.32 The Institute of Medicine recommends the Adequate Sodium Intake to be 1000mg for children 1-3, 1200mg 4-8, and 1500mg for 9-18.33 A recent research report suggested several strategies that should be taken in order to help reduce the daily sodium intake of Americans.34 The report concluded by requiring new federal government standards aimed at reducing the acceptable level of sodium.35
Not only are our children eating an abundance of sugar and sodium, but there is a considerable amount of fat and calories in children’s meal options. The Institute of Medicine recommends moderately active children, ages 4 to 8, consume about 1300 calories.36 This amounts to approximately 430 calories per meal.37 However, consider, a children’s alfredo pasta menu option which consists of 1,800 calories and 87 grams of fat, this one meal contains more than the daily allowance of calories.38 A typical kid’s cheeseburger meal at a fast food restaurant could include 610 calories, 34 grams of fat, 1090 milligrams of sodium, without the drink.39 The Center for Science in the Public Interest (“CSPI”), a consumer group, did an analysis confirming that the majority of restaurant meals for children contain more than the 430 calories recommended.40
“Right now kids’ meals are almost all unhealthy meals when they should be almost all healthy meals.”41 The USDA recommends 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day.42 Sadly, the majority of kid’s menu options consist of burgers, fries, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and soda.43 Credit can be given to chain restaurants for providing options such as apple crisps and grilled chicken.44 These options, however, don’t even come close to the serious revamping necessary to actually effectuate change in our children’s health.