Straight Talk Advice

May 04, 2005

Food ads a lot to compete with

Dear Straight Talk: You talk about the media in your column but never how it affects the way kids eat. The average child sees 40,000 commercials a year on television, most of them for candy, soda, sugary cereal, and fast food. How can parents compete with this? And how can teens who have been influenced their whole life to eat these foods get out from under the spell?—Concerned educator

Dear Concerned: For parents, the simplest way is to get rid of the TV. Hey, you asked! I speak from experience. Try storing it for a month and notice the difference. Raising kids is a snap with no TV and is especially effective with young kids 0 to 14. After that, their B.S. detectors are mostly up and running, lifestyle patterns are established, and advertising tends to run off. Children under age 8 are extremely vulnerable. They swallow ads whole, believing them to be accurate information about the world.

If you’re not willing to part with your TV, you can still compete, but it is requires constant vigilance and huge charisma—like you say, it is a competition, and the industry hires the best. Personally, I didn’t feel like I stood a chance.

If you’re a teen who’s spent your whole life eating advertised foods and now you’re looking to trade fat for muscle and prepare your body for the long haul, it will require a lot of will power, but it can be done. It’s a matter of choice and follow-through and in that sense, very simple. Check out what Geoff and Greg did:

From Geoff, 19: I started drinking Cokes when I was in diapers. The rest of my diet was no better: Pop Tarts, candy, junky snacks. I have a high metabolism, so I appeared healthy, not fat, but when I was a sophomore, a blood test for sports showed I had glucose in my urine. This is really bad. It means your body can’t handle the amount of sugar you’re putting in it. It’s an early warning for Type 2 diabetes—which used to be unheard of in teens. I did some research on Type 2 diabetes: impotence, blindness, amputation of limbs. Hmmmm…… not pretty.

The first month, I was crazy with withdrawals. I never felt full, never felt satisfied. Sugar suppresses appetite so once you’re addicted the body doesn’t feel full without it and you wander around after a healthy meal looking for something more. My mom kept bowls of candy all over the house and I started throwing them away. I’m in college now and I’ve been eating healthy foods ever since that glucose test. Over the years, I’ve influenced my family to eat better, but at the time, nobody helped me. I had to do it all by myself. For motivation, I kept thinking about the research.

From Greg, 16: I knew sodas weren’t good for me, but I was addicted. When I was 12, I put the idea to my parents that if I didn’t drink soda for a whole year, they would pay me $100. They agreed and I went the whole year without a single soda. At the end, I had a Hansen’s and almost puked.

That was 4 years ago and I haven’t had more than one or two sodas since. When my friends offer me soda, I just say, “No thanks, I don’t drink soda.” What do I drink? Water, milk, Gator-Aid. No, not Starbucks. I think the soda industry got everyone onto caffeine. By the way, I have no zits and tons of energy.


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