Friday, August 01, 2003
Only one cheer for Kraft Glenview-based Kraft Foods got a lot of press for a promise. The company pledged to look harder at the fat content in its kid-friendly foods and, perhaps, think about smaller portions.
We applaud any effort to battle the obesity epidemic in American children (not to mention American adults), but we stop far short of three cheers for Kraft. For one thing, despite the massive public applause for the company's intention to make changes, no changes have yet been made. For another, the company's efforts are hardly altruistic. Kraft's announcement came just days before the federal government announced it will be cracking down on foods, exploring their health claims and requiring that companies list trans fatty acids--the bad stuff-by 2006.
Kraft also was moved by the threat of being sued for its high-fat products just as its tobacco-selling parent company, Altria Group Inc., formerly known as Philip Morris, has been sued by smokers.
Kraft is the maker of Oreos, Lunchables, Mallomars and Chips Ahoy, some of the least healthful foods we feed our children. But let's be clear, it's food we parents choose to feed our kids.
We get help. Marketing messages tell kids junk is essential. Four out of five food ads aimed at kids tout unhealthy choices such as candy, cookies and fast food, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
In 2001, the U.S. Surgeon General reported obesity is the second greatest national public health issue-behind tobacco use. The report estimated 300,000 Americans die every year from obesity-related illness, 420,000 from tobacco-related illness.
In the last 20 years, obesity has doubled among adults and tripled among children-13 percent of children ages 6 to 11 and 14 percent of children ages 12 to 19 were obese in 1999.
Carrying too much weight can lead to heart disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, stroke, arthritis and other problems. Obese and overweight children often suffer from low self-esteem.
But this public health epidemic is also our fault. We eat too much, exercise too little and model fat-building behavior for our kids.
Is it good that Kraft is making healthier macaroni and cheese? Yes. A single, one-cup serving of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese contains 410 calories, 18.5 grams of fat and 750 milligrams of sodium.
For an industry leader such as Kraft to acknowledge fat is a problem and make a move like this is important. Where Kraft leads, its competitors will follow. Still, efforts to slim down fat in junk food is a small portion of the solution.
We should lobby for laws to limit marketing to kids. And we should call on local television and radio stations to do their share.
But we should do our part, too. The key to reversing the obesity trends is for us to show our kids how to live healthier lives. Take more time with food choices. Don't eat on the run. Don't depend on prepared foods. Eat fruits and vegetables. Drink water. Spend less time on the couch.
It's summer in Chicago. Take a walk along the lakefront. Dust off the bicycles. Play catch. And, when you're done, celebrate with a fat-free yogurt cone. Go ahead. You will have earned it.
Take a vacation Ah, the joys of summer. Playing in the yard. Splashing in the pool. Packing for the family vacation....
Well, a family vacation still is one of the joys of summer. Sadly, it is one that fewer and fewer of us are able to enjoy.
An already stingy vacation policy on the part of most American employers-a mere 10 days of paid vacation is the norm, but 13 percent of U.S. companies don't offer any paid vacation time to workers-coupled with a stumbling economy means for many this could be the summer without.
This is a trend that should be resisted at all costs. Not only do we all deserve a break from the pressures of work, our kids deserve-and need-our undivided attention.
A week, or even a few days, without the disruption of cell phones, e-mail, pagers and all those other overly-important methods of communication can bring a family together.
And it doesn't have to break the budget.
Yes, you can take out a home equity loan and treat the kids to a week at Disneyland. But why? It doesn't make good financial sense and it isn't necessary. A few days at home without work-related interruptions can achieve the same goal: quality family time. Whether you're tossing the ball around, pushing the baby in a park swing or waiting in line for the super coaster, it's being with each other that counts.
The boss and the economy may not be cooperating, but don't cheat the kids. Take a day off, or maybe just use your day off, to reconnect as a family. You'll be glad you did.