Just relax. One won’t kill you . . .

Kid Food Kills

It was once socially acceptable to smoke. More than half of Americans did. Public smoking is now shunned with nasty comments and dirty looks. And if a whiff of smoke enters the vicinity of a child, confrontations are justifiable.

Despite the obvious, (has anyone ever lit a cigarette and thought, “this feels super healthy?”) it took one hundred years for truth to trump addiction. In 1944, the American Cancer Society’s official stance was still, “no definite evidence exists between smoking and lung cancer.” (Sick smokers didn’t count as evidence, I guess.) When the whistle was blown on Big Tobacco, an array of deceitful tactics were revealed. Cigarettes had been chemically altered to make them more addictive. Industry insiders had wormed their way into government appointments to ensure public policies did not impede sales. Non-profit research committees (funded by the tobacco companies) were exposed as fraudulent.

In hindsight, the truth was obvious, albeit inconvenient.

People who start smoking at an early age begin to get cancer in their mid to late 40s. It peaks in the late 70s. If you smoke, you know the risks. No one wants you to get cancer, but if you do, you earned it. Many smokers are betting the odds. If they can entertain their addiction and still live an average length of life, who cares what they die of? Life has a 100 percent mortality rate regardless of good behavior.

Unhealthy eating catches up with us even faster than smoking. Our kids are not expected to live as long as the generation of smokers before us. And aside from death, a bad diet reduces our quality of life. Many kids are already overweight and unable to be as active as they should be. They suffer from allergies, asthma, ADHD, diabetes or other disorders. Low energy levels, depression and anxiety are common. It has become normal for children to go to the doctor as often as their grandparents. 

Childhood onset of chronic conditions is a new thing. Many of us graduated high school feeling like rock stars despite bad eating habits. We didn’t have peanut free zones or carry epi-pins in our bags. We grew up with the notion that kids can eat whatever they want and get away with it (as long as they are somewhat active). But these days, kids are suffering from grown up afflictions and take as much medication as the elderly.

There is plenty of blame to go around for this modern malaise. But the two most common scapegoats have little and nothing to do with it. We have not become a nation of lazy people lacking willpower. And our DNA has not changed in a single generation. The problem is external, not internal–perpetrated upon us by the profit models of Big Business.

Fun Fact: In 1985, Philip Morris purchased General Mills for $5.6 billion. R. J. Reynolds bought Nabisco for $4.9 billion. In 1988, Phillip Morris also acquired Kraft foods for $13.1 billion. Big Tobacco strategies are alive and well behind the brands of Big Food.

Our food supply has been chemically altered in the same ways that cigarettes are. Strawberry Go-Gurts contain no strawberries; Trix Cereal‘s fruity puffs contain no fruit. Kraft Mac & Cheese contains no cheese. Flavor technologies and the power of suggestion manipulate the mind into believing we’re tasting ingredients that aren’t there. The lack of fiber and nutrients generates an insatiable hunger for sustenance that can’t be satisfied with more of the same. We’re eating chemicals that damage our organs, wreak havoc in our bowels, screw with our mood and stimulate the pleasure centers of our brain (creating addiction).

You can’t legally smoke before the age of 18. But I’ve seen people put soda pop in baby bottles. Toddlers are given food that adults won’t eat. You see it all the time. When “kid treats” are served, weight and health-conscious grownups decline. Cake is for kids. We know it’s probably cheap and overly sweet anyway (no one splurges on quality food that will be wasted on children).

Our kids are routinely offered foods that we’d never allow our pets to eat. 

We take our children through the drive-thru and give them carte blanche, yet order the salad and lemon water for ourselves. We settle for coffee and fruit at meetings while our kids stuff themselves with doughnuts and chocolate milk. We go to nice restaurants and order a “clean” meal, but let our kids order junk from the kid menu. Why do we eat differently? Because adults are feeling the effects of a lifetime of bad food. Most middle-aged people are overweight, diabetic (or pre-diabetic) and suffering from gastrointestinal distress, immune disorders and other health problems. We’ve learned from experience that kid food makes adults fat and sick.

But have we really learned?

As parents, we know we have to teach our kids to do things they don’t want to do. It takes about 18 years to instill a lifetime of values that will help our children thrive as adults. We drive them to and from activities that foster the rewards of hard work. They must do homework, help with chores and sit still in church. We help them set goals, hold them accountable and reward them for their efforts.

Too often, those rewards include movie popcorn and Starbucks lattes. Maybe a pizza party for them and their friends. For sure, dessert is earned by swallowing a few bites of vegetables.

We use bad food to bribe our kids to do everything. Seriously. They won’t even sit on Santa’s lap without the obligatory sugary sweet hot chocolate, candy canes and gingerbread cookies. We make them hot dogs, chicken nuggets and butter noodles because that’s what they want and that’s what’s easy. Fast food fundraisers, concessions and candy sales support their school activities. Ice cream socials, Muffins with Moms and Doughnuts with Dads lure them to family and community gatherings. The PTA sells popcorn and cookies. We might remind them to eat fruit and offer them vegetables, but they get far more bad food than good.

We might as well tell our children it’s okay to smoke. Processed foods are just as harmful and addictive. Sugar causes diabetes and is eight times more addictive than cocaine. Lunchmeat causes cancer. Artificial flavors and seasonings aggravate allergies and asthma. Food coloring is made with petroleum, which is why all of Europe has banned them.

What’s wrong in America?

We are raising a generation of addicts. We’re giving our kids the very foods we’re trying to avoid. We might as well be lighting their cigarettes and giving them money for drugs.

Some of us have a sense that this is a problem. But we’re on the wrong side of socially acceptable. In group settings, we feel obligated to feign polite gratitude as our children fill themselves with poison. Because someone was kind enough to stop at the grocery and pick up whatever processed crap will make the kids happy. As though offering cheap and processed foods is an act of love and servitude, or that the cumulative effects of bad food make anyone happy.

The definitions of love, servitude and happiness have been hijacked. Big Food has inserted their products into every corner of our lives, and they are making a killing on us. Literally. Subway sponsors the Olympics, Burger King provides playgrounds and McDonalds passes out pedometers. General Mills has health educators collecting Box Tops. Market Day has school boards advertising their packaged products. Kids love their food, these corporations want to serve us and it’s happiness for all if we just work together. 

Just as public health officials once debated lung cancer while smoking cigarettes, rising disease rates are discussed at events catered by the very foods responsible. In hindsight, the truth will be obvious, albeit inconvenient.

We have been completely brainwashed. Big box stores, filled with acres of packages labeled “all natural” and “no artificial ingredients,” only sell real food in the produce department (sorry, but fried veggie sticks in green packages don’t qualify). And just because they’ve removed the trans fat from the Oreo and replaced it with another shelf-stable synthetic doesn’t mean that it’s safe! Conscientious consumers that buy brands because they promise “No HFCS” need to ask themselves what new fake ingredient has replaced it. It’s a life and death game of whack-a-mole. Flavor engineers have simply gone back to the lab, made a few tweaks and Voila! Customers are satisfied. 

But we’re not healthy. Look around and see for yourself. 

We blindly trust that processed products are safe for two reasons: our government has approved them for sale and everyone eats them (there is safety in numbers). Well, cigarettes are for sale despite the billions of people that have died as a direct result of smoking. Heck, full page ads for cigarrettes are showing up in magazines again . . . right next to ads for your favorite brand of food. We must realize that processed food is a product like any other on the market. Despite the promises of convenience, health benefits, flavor and “all natural,” your favorite brands are marketed by corporations with only one goal: profit. And they will promise whatever customers need to believe in order to make the sale.

Food makers spend billions of dollars every year to bypass our natural instincts to feed our children a nutritious diet. Children are very vulnerable to marketing messages (evidently, grown ups are too). These evocative appeals foster eating habits and create customers for life. In contrast, fewer than 100 commercials air each year promoting fruits and vegetables. This pathetic attempt to promote healthy eating is even less effective than government attempts to discourage smoking. 

This is a cultural war. And the health of our children is the battlefield. It is our responsibility to make changes in our home and then start promoting changes outside of it. Yes, that takes work–but thats our job as parents. We need to spend just as much time teaching our kids how and what to eat as we do helping them with their math or shuffling them to and from activities. Food is more important, as math skills and foot drills only matter if you are alive and well. 

If the thought of someone giving your child a cigarette and encouraging them to smoke makes you mad, good. Let that same anger inspire you to protect you child when someone hands them a “treat” that isn’t.

Start with Halloween. The zombies are en route with truckloads of candy to sell. Your children are the target market.

Please share this. We need to to fight back.

Treat or trick? Treat or trick?

cupcake with a cigarette for a candle