Battle of the bulge.
By failing to pay closer attention to nutrition, many Americans are saddling their children with a burden they're likely to wear around their waists all their livelong days. The worst consequences - health problems such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes - remain invisible until serious damage already has been done.
Avoiding those consequences won't be as easy as succumbing to the temptation to buy kids the foods they've been conditioned to want. Recent studies underscore the challenges parents face in providing their kids with a healthy start in life. Not surprisingly, television is one of the biggest problems, but not just because it's a passive activity that's often accompanied by snacking.
Young children, particularly those younger than age 9, are the targets of a tsunami of food-related advertising, mostly for cereals, fast food and candy. A new report from the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that kids are exposed to 40,000 ads a year, double what they watched a generation ago.
"Ten billion dollars in food industry advertising aimed at kids is a powerful counterweight to parents trying to get their kids to eat a balanced diet," said Vicky Rideout, a Kaiser vice president.
What's worse is that children in that age group tend to believe ad messages, prompting the American Psychological Association to enter the debate with a recommendation that restrictions be placed on ads aimed at children younger than 9.
Parents can't escape nutritional problems just by turning off the TV, passing up fast food joints and taking the kids to a family restaurant. A study of children's menus at "sit-down" family restaurants found that most kiddie items were high in calories and fat. Children's menus were unbalanced even at restaurants where adult menus offered healthier choices, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Parents also lack basic nutritional information about a restaurant's menu items. With American children now getting up to a third of their total calories from fast-food and other chain restaurants, nutritional information on menus items is one way parents could teach their kids to make healthier food choices.
Legislation to require large chain restaurants to print nutrition information on menus is pending in five states, the District of Columbia, and in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to the CSPI. Such legislation makes good sense.
If market-savvy restaurant chains can find ways to quickly introduce carbohydrate information on menu items for customers on the Atkins diet, they can print basic nutritional information in their children's menus. The motivation amounts to enlightened self-interest: Early adopters would see a boost in business from parents who appreciated the help in fighting a national epidemic of childhood obesity.