2008-08-13 / Health

Kid' s meals not for kids?

by Terry Toole

In a recent article in the Macon Telegraph by Phil Dodson, "Feeding our kids slow poison," were some observations we can already see in our children. They are getting fatter. Much of this article was written by Mr. Dodson.

The Associated Press published a story a few days ago that, despite ominous overtones, didn't come as a big surprise. Taken in context with recently reported medical findings, it presents a frightening possibility: Many of our children are being slowly poisoned with a potentially dangerous diet that almost certainly will lead - as it already has for hundreds of thousands of children and young people - to serious medical conditions.

The story reported the vast majority of "kids' meals," available at fast food chains such as Taco Bell, Sonic, McDonald's, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and similar franchises, exceeded by far the caloric content that a child should have at one sitting. (Subway's kids' meals fared best: Only six of 18 "Fresh fit for Kids" meals exceeded the calorie threshold.)

The health agencies are also looking at the menus fed by schools and how most of them would fall into the category of being unhealthy for the youth. That was not a problem several years ago when students and teachers brought their meal from home, and exercised in the gym and school yards.

For the past several years nutrition experts have been warning us that those lip-smacking good, but fat-and-calorie-laden burgers and super-size orders of French fries are a sure way to increase America's bulging fat problem. Numerous newspapers explain how obesity is more of a problem in the South than anywhere else in the country.

The report, based on a study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that a survey of kids' meals at 13 major restaurant chains found 93 percent of the 1,474 possible choices "exceeded 430 calories - an amount that is one-third of what the National Institute of Medicine recommends that children ages 4 through 8 should consume in a day."

The story points out although there are nutritious meals available at the franchises surveyed, "parents have to navigate a minefield of calories, fat and salt" to find them.

Consumers, who read material readily available - some of it on the menus at a number of the fast-food outlets - already are aware that much of what is available provides little nutrition. Some hamburger/cheeseburger combinations have more than 1,000 calories.

Over the past two decades, America has permitted its children to chow down on these tasty but deceptively dangerous meals, laying the groundwork for conditions that almost certainly will manifest themselves, frequently shortening lives years later.

The report notes that "eating out now accounts for a third of children's daily caloric intake, twice the amount consumed away from home 30 years ago." And, as an editorial in the Dallas Morning News noted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta found the number of overweight children and young people has tripled since the mid-1970s, an increase of some 16 percent. Meanwhile, The New York Times reported late last month that prescription data from three organizations - Medco Health Solutions, Express Scrits and marketing data collection company, Verispan - show that hundreds of thousands of children are now being treated for high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes, high cholesterol and acid reflux - "all problems linked to obesity that were practically unheard of in children two decades ago."

The data, reported by The Times, was obtained through the newspaper's investigation into the increased use of medication in children to treat what once was mostly adult medical conditions. What the paper found is ominous. For example:

• From 2001 to 2007, Medico's data reflected a 151 percent increase in medications prescribed for Type 2 diabetes;

• During the same period, drugs prescribed to treat acid reflux in children increased 137 percent;

• Verispan's data reflects a 13 percent increase in prescriptions for high blood pressure in the under-19 age group from 2005 to 2007;

• Express Scripts reported a 15 percent increase over three years in drugs prescribed to treat cholesterol and other fats in the blood.

The movie "Wall-e," playing at theaters now, portrays a fat and sedentary society whose members move about lying on vehicles for disabled people. Let's hope it isn't an accurate portrayal of what awaits our generations to come.

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