What happens when you add ridiculous amounts of sugar to different foods to get kids to eat them? It creates a preference for sugary foods that will likely last a lifetime.
That’s why so many food reformers were thrilled to hear that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has decided to no longer offer cartons of flavored milk (e.g. chocolate and strawberry) which can contain up to 8 teaspoons of added sugar. As one of the largest school systems in the nation, we can only hope that they will inspire other school districts to do the same.
Added sugars are a staple of today’s processed and packaged foods, particularly those marketed to kids. Frosted Flakes, Fruit Loops and Cocoa Krispies have been horrifying public health advocates and parents for decades. Take a look at the sugar content of kids’ yogurt, frozen waffles, fruit drinks, instant oatmeal and applesauce. And here’s a shocker: some bottled spaghetti sauces have as much sugar as a granola bar or a pop tart.
Why do we need all this sugar in our food? If you ask Big Food and Big Beverage, they’ll tell you they are responding to consumer demand. Truth is the food industry has made the unilateral decision to add sugar to almost every processed food Americans, and in particular our kids, consume regularly. If we didn’t crave sugar before, we do now!
If you think sugar (or its other names like sucrose, fructose, lactose, and glucose) isn’t a problem in our children’s diet, think again. An American Heart Association study found children as young as 1-3 typically consume around 12 teaspoons of sugar a day. By the time a child is 4-8 years old his sugar consumption is, on average, a whopping 21 teaspoons a day. And teens, ages 14-18, are practically drowning in a sugary diet, averaging about 34.3 teaspoons daily. That is over four times the recommended amount!
Numerous food reformers have been warning about added sugar in milk for years. Ann Cooper, director of nutrition services for the Boulder Valley School District in Louisville, Colorado, which has banned flavored milk says “chocolate milk is soda in drag.” Diligent parent groups around the country have asked for flavored milk to be removed from schools but have come up against strong opposition from the Dairy Association, which is a deep-pocketed and very powerful lobbying organization.
But it wasn’t until British TV chef Jamie Oliver came to Los Angeles with his “Food Revolution” TV show and Internet petition, that the ground truly began to shift. On one episode of "Food Revolution" Oliver filled a school bus with white sand to represent the amount of sugar LAUSD students consume weekly in flavored milk. "If you have flavored milk, that's candy," he told the Associated Press.
Thank you, Jamie Oliver, for bringing your in-your-face brand of activism to America! Sometimes the only way to beat back a powerful industry and a complacent bureaucracy is with a bit of showmanship and judicious use of all kinds of media. Food reformers, take note.