Category Archives: Childhood obesity

Thin Mints, Caramel deLites, Peanut Butter Patties and… the Nestle Crunch Girl Scout Candy Bar?

They came, they saw, they conquered.  And now they’re gone.

We’re all too aware that Girl Scouts only sell their cookies during select times each the year. Still, the seasonal nature of the product isn’t necessarily a bad quality: the troops haven’t yet embraced my proposal to sell salads and yogurt, so snacking on their desserts may take a bit of a toll on the ‘ol waistline.  Their Peanut Butter Patties run about 5.2 calories per gram and the aptly-named Thin Mints cost around 5 calories per gram.  By way of comparison, a 3 Musketeers Bar weighs in at around 4.3 calories per gram, a Snicker’s Bar contains just under 4.8 calories per gram and a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar consists of about 4.9 calories per gram.

In other words, anyone strictly counting calories may want to at least consider deleting the Official Girl Scout Cookie Finder App and instead heading straight to the candy aisle.  The Girl Scouts may have been selling cookies for around a hundred years, but I’m pretty sure that they’ve never sold Almond Joy, Milky Way or Kit Kat candy bars.

My, how things change.

Later this year, the troops will be promoting the Nestle Crunch Girl Scout Candy Bar, which appears to be the offspring of a chance encounter between a Nestle Crunch candy bar and Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies.  These creations are now being described as “dark chocolate cookie wafers and mint chocolate creme, topped with airy crispies.”  Josh Ackley, a media relations contact and spokesperson for the organization, could barely contain his excitement:

We are thrilled with the positive response to the Nestle Crunch Girl Scout Candy Bar.  The product photo is a retail sales sample and not available for sale at this time. Look forward to some very exciting news in June.

I’m guessing that Girl Scout Cookies are one of the few sugary snacks that may actually recognize a reduction in calories when mixed with a candy bar.  And that’s probably part of the plan, because the organization’s leadership is committed to fighting childhood obesity and actively promoting healthy eating habits:

Starting with our youngest members, the Girl Scout organization promotes a healthy lifestyle for its girl members, which includes a well-balanced diet and plenty of exercise. Our health and fitness programs encourage girls to adopt healthy fitness and eating habits early in life and continue them into adulthood. Girls are also taught to consider ingredient contribution to their overall diet and portion size when choosing snacks.

Tune in next time, after the Girl Scouts announce Frosted Peanut Butter Patty Cupcakes, Glazed Caramel deLite Donuts – with and without sprinkles – and Hot Fudge Savannah Smiles Sundaes.

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TOO BIG TO BOAT: expanding waistlines threaten to capsize vacations

We may no longer need to snap another goofy passport photograph.  The snazzy red fannypacks can remain in the darkest recesses of our closets, next to the chic parachute pants and crocs.  We can now return the trendy new swim trunks, swim fins and snorkels.  It’s time to disappoint our children.

Our holiday cruise has been cancelled, because America has become too fat.

Alright, fine, that last statement may be a little extreme… but…

Safety regulations establish the legal number of passengers that can be carried by many passenger vessels and other boats.  The number of passengers is typically calculated through a formula based upon the average weight per passenger, which the regulations refer to as the Assumed Average Weight Per Person or AAWPP.  Over fifty years ago, the AAWPP was set at 160lbs.

The rise of the fast food industry and a gradual shift to more sedentary lifestyles has resulted in a fairly significant increase in the average weight of Americans since the AAWPP was set at 160lbs.  Our rates of obesity have doubled over the past several decades, and now one in three adults and nearly one in five children and adolescents are clinically obese.  Obesity carries a number of risks, and these risks apparently include the threat of capsizing a boat.

The United States Coast Guard has recognized the.. er… growing trend and increased the AAWPP from 160lbs to 185lbs.  The new rule became effective on December 1, 2011, and applies to ferries, sightseeing boats and American-flagged international cruise ships.  These passenger vessels will now likely need to reduce the number of passengers that are carried at any given time.

So… our holiday vacations have been cancelled because there’s no longer room for our families on the cruises.  At least we’ll now have time to sit back, relax, and celebrate the expansive beauty of January’s finest holidays: National Whipped Cream Day, National Chocolate Covered Cherry Day, and National Cream Puff Day.

LEGISLATORS, LOBBYISTS AND SCHOOL LUNCHES: heroic efforts to save our children, one frozen pizza at a time

Scientists are constantly identifying new species.  These plants and animals are often discovered in remote parts of the world, such as uncivilized and unexplored rainforests or deep within uncharted oceans.  For example, we recently welcomed the aquatic Rogue Mushroom (Psathyrella aquatica), Darwin’s bark spider (Caerostris darwini) Attenborough’s Pitcher (Nepenthes attenboroughii) and the edible Udderly Weird Yam (Dioscorea orangeana).

These new species haven’t received nearly as much mainstream attention as the latest discovery: an edible vegetable commonly known as a frozen pizza.  This vegetable is hardy and versatile; it can be found thriving in a wide range of harsh environments, including school lunchrooms and the coldest parts of grocery stores.

Alright, this isn’t necessarily a new discovery.  Federal regulations have historically classified frozen pizzas as vegetables so long as they contain at least 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce.  The reasoning for the classification is probably pretty darn simple: frozen pizzas are made with tomato sauce, and tomatoes are vegetables, and therefore frozen pizzas must be vegetables.  It’s a straightforward and nutritious application of the transitive property of mathematics.

The reasoning and the application are also arguably erroneous.  Tomatoes are generally not classified as vegetables; they are generally considered to be fruits.

Regardless, the classification is important for several reasons. First, applying this transitive property of nutrition, I can sprinkle trace amounts of a green, leafy substance on dozens of chocolate frosted, cream-filled pastries and feel as if I’ve consumed a healthy and nutritious meal. That’s one heck of a breakthrough, and I already feel noticeably thinner and far more athletic.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the classification impacts the administrative of federal cash subsidies.  Under the current law, schools qualify for federally subsidized lunches only when they serve food to students that meets certain nutritional guidelines.  Schools that serve frozen pizzas that qualify as vegetables are more readily able to satisfy these nutritional guidelines and therefore qualify for federal subsidized lunches.

Simple, right?  Maybe.  The United States Department of Agriculture is much better at explaining this:

[p]ublic or nonprofit private schools of high school grade or under and public or nonprofit private residential child care institutions may participate in the school lunch program. School districts and independent schools that choose to take part in the lunch program get cash subsidies and USDA foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve lunches that meet Federal requirements, and they must offer free or reduced price lunches to eligible children. School food authorities can also be reimbursed for snacks served to children through age 18 in afterschool educational or enrichment programs.

Well, the USDA recently attempted to raise the threshold from 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce to 1/2 cup of tomato sauce.  Frozen pizzas would therefore require more tomato sauce to qualify as vegetables, at least in the eyes of the law.

If the proposed regulations were officially enacted, schools would have a financial disincentive to sell traditional frozen pizzas to students.  They would likely only sell frozen pizzas that met the heightened threshold, because otherwise the schools would have greater difficulty in meeting the nutritional requirements for cash subsidized.

Manufacturers of frozen pizzas were that concerned using 1/2 cup of tomato sauce to prepare frozen pizzas would increase the costs associated with production.  They’re probably right, and they were angry.  Some responded by hiring lobbyists.  This made the lobbyists happy.

The happy lobbyists complained to Congress on behalf of the angry manufacturers.  Congress acted upon their demands by including a provision within H.R. 2112, a recent minibus funding bill, that prevented the USDA from raising the threshold from 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce to 1/2 cup of tomato sauce.  On November 17, 2011, Congress passed the minibus funding bill and the President signed it the very next day.

The new law ensures that schools likely will continue to sell frozen pizzas containing only 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce to students.  These frozen pizzas will also continue to be classified as vegetables, and students will therefore continue to consume the frozen pizzas at school.  Adolescents rejoiced.

Manufacturers no longer needed to worry about the potential for increased costs of producing the frozen pizza.  They were no longer angry.  They rejoiced.

The American Frozen Food Institute was the primary trade organization that lobbied Congress to maintain the traditional standards for classification of frozen pizzas as vegetables.  It may have represented frozen pizza sellers like ConAgra Foods Inc. and Schwan Food Co., but it was really working for the best interests of children.  Don’t believe me?  Consider that the trade organization:

  • stressed that children would benefit from this “important victory,” because any other action would “force companies… to change their products in a way that would make them unpalatable to students,”
  • noted that “we believe we can improve child nutrition by ensuring that schools are able to provide vegetables in any form… It’s a little bizarre for us that in trying to improve nutrition, you take items from school cafeterias that do provide vital sources of vitamins and nutrients.”

I’m not necessarily sure that I’m buying the trade association’s claim the frozen pizzas truly provide vitals sources of nutrients for students.  The nutritional values may vary from school to school and from pizza to pizza, but several fairly reliable sources indicate that frozen pizzas sold to children are the equivalent of intestinal garbage.  According to LIVESTRONG, for example, generic school pizzas contain around 530 calories per slice.  Each slice also reportedly contains 21 grams of fat, including 12 grams of saturated fat, 81 milligrams of cholesterol and a whopping 1333 milligrams of sodium.

Holy freakin’ bloated bellies, Batman!

Whatever.  I’ve ranted about childhood obesity in previous entries, so I’m not going to jump on the soapbox this morning.  Suffice it to say, though, we really shouldn’t be surprised that incidents of type 2 diabetes among children have been occurring with increasing frequency and childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the past thirty years.  These are disturbing trends, and it appears that the trends are going to get worse before they get better.

I also don’t think that I’m over-exaggerating the severity of the issue by claiming that this act is indicative of the manner in which federal government caters to the interests of corporate America above the health of the nation’s children.  This isn’t necessarily shocking, simply because I’m not really surprised by any action taken by the federal government.  Heck, I wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow if the federal government attempted to classify hot dogs and sausages as vegetables so long as they contain a modicum of ketchup.  That’s pretty unrealistic, but even far-out and far-fetched ideas are becoming more and more commonplace.

Wait.  What?  A previous administration already attempted to classify ketchup as a vegetable?

Oh brother.  I feel another rant coming on.  It’s probably best to just grab a pinch of a green leafy substance and get back to my hordes of healthy and nutritious chocolate frosted, cream-filled pastries.  I need to work on my figure, anyways.

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