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Will Play For Donuts

By MeMe Roth

MeMe Roth, President, National Action Against Obesity

The moment we signed up our kids for Fall Soccer, guess what happened first? Snacks. Snack schedules. Snack emails. Snack discussions. The same thing happened during flag football, field hockey, baseball, and basketball seasons. I scratched my head over this. The primary reason for having our children in recreational sports is to provide them a positive sporting experience— not another opportunity for recreational eating.

And by the way, “snack” doesn’t really mean snack. It means Party Food. We’re pressured to bring the children not only a post-game “snack,” but also a half-time snack. And although the coach and parents have agreed the food would be healthy, it’s nowhere close. So far, it has been Oreos, Chips Ahoys, organic “Oreos,” chips, organic chips, cupcakes, etc. And then just this last weekend, it was a mountain of chocolate-frosted Dunkin Donuts— with sprinkles on top. This, all in addition to bananas and orange slices. At a practical level, we’re talking about children expending maybe 200 calories, then consuming 300 calories in parentprovided snacks…

Our family politely opted out of the “snack” program, as we’d like our children to get excited about soccer, not doughnuts. But what does this constant parent, team, peer pressure say about recreational sports leagues? One parent chided me throughout an entire game about my position on the “snack,” then interrupted our coach on the sidelines to talk about it, then proceeded to make disparaging remarks about me to the coach, most unfortunately, in front of my son.

It would be fantastic and helpful to parents attempting to keep their children healthy—if America’s recreational sports leagues enforced a reasonable “snack” policy. And it’s not easy for the coaches either. The head of a YMCA sports league serving tens of thousands of children tried to bypass the snacks and “had parents screaming at me and quitting,” he said. Another commissioner of a major soccer league told me, “It makes me nuts to have a donut-induced Pavlovian response to soccer.” Even as coach and commissioner, he can’t seem to get his team parents to stop with the donuts.

What Should We Do?

To keep it simple, we could ask that parents bring the water and fruit their own children need… OR… we could provide guidelines that the “snack” be a healthful snack such as fresh fruit or veggies. It’d be great for the kids to get excited about foods their bodies need—and are woefully in short supply of—like fresh fruits and veggies. They could love apple slices, orange slices, bananas, grapes, berries, carrots sticks, celery sticks, etc., if we’d condition them that those are the foods we eat alongside a soccer match.

The entire snack food bonanza is rooted in parents’ love for their children, but the effects are harmful to all. It feels very Twilight Zone sometimes as I watch parents continue to feed their children beyond all reason. And yes, they get “furious” at anyone who tries to sway them. That “stout” father chiding me on the sidelines about snacks tried to convince me based on the snacks being “ritual,” which only convinced me further that this junk food “ritual” has to go.

Kids Are Sicker Than They Look

Are kids allowed to chew bubble gum while playing? Are they allowed on the field in t-shirts with profanity? It’s about codes of good sportsmanship, safety, and ethics. And if that doesn’t work, make it about food allergies and religion and legal liability. (Some day somebody will sue a sports league for promoting consumption of known harmful substances…) And truly, obesity as a point of debate barely works. Why? Because more than 60% of parents don’t recognize their overweight children as being overweight. And many kids aren’t visibly overweight…not yet. Instead they already have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high pre-diabetic blood sugar. To net it out, our precious children are much sicker than they look.

Here are some facts from the recent Two Angry Moms film screening on Capitol Hill, hosted by Jayni and Chevy Chase, Margo Wootan and Joy Johanson of the CSPI, Amy Kalafa, Dr. Susan Rubin, Mary Ann Petrilena, Kate Adamick, NAAO, and United States Representatives Woolsey, Shays, and Lowey:

  • 35% of American children are overweight or at risk.
  • The CDC says that this generation of children will be the first in our nation’s history to live shorter lives than those of their parents.
  • 30% of boys born in 2000 and 40% of girls will develop type 2 diabetes.
  • Rates of asthma, ADD, anxiety, autism, learning disorders and depression are soaring among children.
  • An estimated 1 in 4 children take prescription medication daily for chronic illness.
  • A 2000% increase in amphetamine prescriptions for children since 1990.