Grownups shouldn’t be surprised that child obesity is a major and rising concern for 1 in 5 of the nation’s young, putting their short- and long-term health at serious peril: That’s because Big Sugar and major food makers persist in a costly, relentless barrage on kids and adults for unhealthful products, notably sweet drinks that hook children into hard-to-break habits for a lifetime.
Although pediatricians and nutrition experts keep warning that babies and tots, especially, should get much lower amounts of sugar in various forms in their daily diet, almost “two-thirds of the $2.2 billion in beverages marketed to children contained added sweeteners, according to a report released last week by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut,” the New York Times reported.
Rudd researchers found that just three food industry titans sprinkled $21 million in advertising for sugary liquids.
The packaging and advertising for kids’ drinks, as well as nutritional basics about sugar and youngsters’ consumption of it, has become so blurred and confused by makers’ marketing and advertising that even Ph.D.’s in public health may be daunted in discerning what’s good and what’s not, the newspaper reported.
Products that are laden with sugar and contain little fruit or real juice get wrapped up in packaging that makes it seem otherwise. Drinks with lots of real fruit and juice get sold next to those that are lacking. Food marketers also have mastered ways to lure kids in, relying on labels and displays replete with bright colors and designs splashed with animals and cartoon characters.
Meantime, the Rudd researchers broke down specific drinks and detailed their sugar content, with brands carrying as much as 21 grams in a 6 ounce serving (a lemonade), or 38 grams in 12 ounces (Hawaiian Punch, aptly named for the sugar high it might produce in kids).
The researchers urged federal authorities to step up their oversight of kids’ foods, especially sweet drinks, and they supported what many thought might be controversial recommendations about sugar reduction in youngsters’ diets, especially by mostly giving youngsters just milk or water and keeping their fruit juice consumption down to less than a cup a day of 100% fruit juice.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the injuries that can be inflicted on babies and children, notably through negligence or carelessness, and including with the mishandling of the dietary needs of the young. Research and experience has shown that too many kids today exercise too little and take in too many empty and sugary calories. This contributes to obesity problems, which, in turn, add to kids short- and long-term issues with diabetes, heart disease, and cancers.
Consumers only recently have begun to learn about Big Sugar’s mendacity when it comes to the nation’s health: Big Sugar funded and influenced medical science studies to downplay its product’s harm and to put blames for health harms on others, including makers of products with higher fat content. Big Sugar also pioneered product marketing targeted at the young — techniques that, sadly, were adapted for the high-tech age and may have helped advance the uptake of e-cigarettes and vaping, products and practices that officials say are linked to almost three dozen deaths and more than 1,600 confirmed cases of serious lung injury.
While nicotine addiction is its own special kind of nightmare, it’s no cake walk to correct youngsters’ bad dietary habits, including a sweets obsession, once set. Jennifer L. Harris, the lead author of the Rudd Center report, told this to the New York Times: “If your children get used to sweetness, it’s going to be almost impossible to get them to drink milk or plain water.” Indeed. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get Big Sugar off kids’ backs, out of their pocketbooks and foods and drinks.