Despite the evidence that added sugar in the American diet is a central culprit in the diabetes epidemic, I try to stay calm while my children are plied endlessly with the stuff. I have to comment on an email from Barnes & Noble I recently received, though. It read: “It’s Jack’s Birthday! Here’s a Special Birthday Gift! FREE Cupcake or Cookie!”
Now, let’s think here: Why is a bookseller using sugared food to lure children into the store? Has their PR department not read a headline in the past ten years? Have they not seen the books on their own bookshelves explaining the role junk food has played in our health crisis, or looked up from their ledgers to notice all of the struggling, overweight kids everywhere? How about offering children a book or a $5 gift card to buy one?
Please hang on if you’re thinking, “Down, girl. It’s just one cupcake. It’s his birthday.” Because it’s not like this is an isolated incident, or even an occasional one. This is a daily problem parents face. Case in point: I took two of my boys to the dermatologist recently, in fact shortly after B&N had offered Jack junk food to celebrate turning eight. Guess what they were given for being “such good boys?” If you guessed candy, you would be correct. So, here we have a medical doctor using sugar as a reward. I guess he’s missed the past ten years of headlines, too.
One doctor and blogger who totally gets it is Yoni Freedhoff, an MD who is on the front lines, running a nonsurgical weight management center in Canada. As he continually observes, “Somewhere along the line, we’ve normalized the constant provision of junk food to children.” He estimates that his three young daughters are given “at least 600 sugar-spiked calories of junk each and every week” adding up to a weekly total of “26.25 teaspoons of added sugar. . . or more than 14 pounds of the white stuff a year.” He laments: “There’s simply no occasion too small to not warrant a junk food accompaniment. But for me, the strangest part of all is the outcry that occurs if and when I point it out. My experiences have taught me that junk food as part of children’s activities has become so normalized that my questioning this sugary status quo genuinely offends people’s sensitivities and sometimes even generates frank anger.”
People who ply junk to our kids fall back on the refrain, “Aw, don’t be such a stiff, it’s just one.” One candy. One cookie. One cupcake. But as Freedhoff dourly notes, “It’s never just ‘one.'” It’s “just one” every single day, and often multiple times daily, from people we don’t know, in any place you might take your child. Even to the doctor.
So, no Barnes & Noble, I will not be bringing Jack in for an additional sugar fix to celebrate this milestone. I will bake his favorite cupcakes with him at home, we will go around the dinner table and each talk about why we love him so much, and I think I will surprise him with a couple of new Magic Treehouse volumes—from Books-A-Million.