But before I tell you about that, let me introduce myself. I’m the most unpopular mom in the world. I’m the mom who is trying to get candy out of the class room and cupcakes out of sports. I’m not entirely sure I wanted this role, but here I am. And I can’t say I understand how we got in the situation where we started giving kids candy bars for everything from standing in line to finishing their homework or taking a quiz. But this is where we are. There’s no denying it. In my kids’ day cares (and they attended 5 over the years) they would be rewarded with skittles and M&Ms for sitting still and watching a movie while waiting for their parents to pick them up at the end of the day.
Now that they are both in school, the candy and junk food incentives have continued into the classroom but have graduated from 2 mini skittles at a time to snack sized candy bars and gift certificates for fast food desserts. But even worse, the junk food has entered somewhere I never thought it would: Kids Sports.
Why do we enroll our kids in sports if not to foster healthy habits like a love of physical activity, team work, good sportsmanship and camaraderie? Or are we enrolling them in sports as a way to keep them busy while we attend to something else, or as a means of meeting other parents or just because that’s what parents have always done? We’re losing the lesson of sportsmanship by elimination of losers and winners by giving only participation prizes. And now we’re losing the focus on healthy habits by serving these kids junk on the sidelines and junk after the game.
Sliced oranges and apples with old-fashioned water or reduced sugar drinks are non-existent on sports fields. And when they do show up, like they did yesterday at my son’s T ball game, kids show that they would rather starve than eat them.
Kid carry oversized bottles of Gatorade or worse, soda, and snack on cupcakes after games. I know we love our kids and we want them to be always happy. So happy all the time it’s like we are afraid that even a moment of disappointment or sadness in our kids means we have failed as parents. Well, happiness or sadness is not the real barometer, because there will be plenty of sadness and disappointment to go around when these kids grow up obese, dependent on insulin, with mouths full of cavities and wonder how they got that way. And I’ll tell you how they got that way. Their parents.
On the day I brought oranges slices for my child’s T ball team, other parents at the park carried in trays of cupcakes. That’s right. Trays of cupcakes.
We may not be able to control everything that goes on with our kids, but we do control of what they eat. If the junk isn’t there, they won’t eat it.
Here are just a few reasons we should pay attention to all the places we are unnecessarily inviting junk food and excessive sugar into our kids lives (and consequently inviting a host of preventable health problems into our kids’ lives.)
“Over 50% of children will have some tooth decay by the age of 5 and that oral infection is the number one chronic disease in kids.” LA Times July 1, 2011
“Oral infection is the No. 1 chronic disease in children — five times more prevalent than asthma — and experts estimate that more than 50% of children will have some tooth decay by age 5. LA Times July 1, 2011
Tooth decay is more than just a painful inconvenience. Treatment is costly. Because of the cost many parents postpone treatment and then the child ends up with an intrusive procedure that may require sedation, severe tooth damage in permanent teeth and even tooth loss. Dental problems lead to poor concentration, poor eating habits as children avoid foods they need to chew, missed school, problems with speech among other things.
Tooth decay, like many of the chronic conditions facing our children, is preventable. Brushing is not enough. The secret to reducing tooth decay is to reduce the amount of sugar kids are consuming.
“31.8% of children and adolescents are overweight or obese; 16.9% are obese” Centers for Disease Control
“Our kids are growing up overweight and malnourished from a diet of processed foods, and today’s children will be the first generation ever to live shorter lives than their parents.” Jamie Oliver, Food Revolution
Aside from the social stigmas of being obese and overweight, there are tremendous long-term health consequences, among them diabetes, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and depression.
Diabetes, Insulin Sensitivity and Sports Nutrition
We think of kids as being little balls of energy, but they do have specific nutrient needs, especially after exercise. Just like adults, kids need to replenish their nutrient stores and hydrate their bodies after exercise. In the 30 minutes directly after exercise, a high protein, low-fat snack with water is optimum. Proteins help repair and build muscles and water is best for hydration. Many sports drinks, like Gatorade or PowerAid are loaded with sugars. Further, “consuming sugar within this post-exercise window, will negatively affect insulin sensitivity, according to Dr. Mercola. With the rates of type 2 diabetes in children rising, insulin sensitivity and diabetes are serious topics that can’t be ignored. “In the last 2 decades, type 2 diabetes (formerly known as adult-onset diabetes) has been reported among U.S. children and adolescents with increasing frequency.” Centers for Disease Control
While I am focusing on the big offenders, like cupcakes at sports events, sugared milk at lunch, candy incentives in the classroom and soda in sippy cups, the problem of sugar is so rampant that if we are not making conscious choices every day, with every meal and every snack, sugar will win and our kids lose. It is unfair to these kids not only to allow these problems to continue but more so, to encourage and support them. As parents we have an obligation to our kids and to our community to commit to health, to lead by example and to foster habits that will help our kids grow up to be successful.