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Friday, September 27, 2013

McDonald’s Surrenders Soda Stake in Kids’ Meals

McDonald's is making news again in the public health world with yesterday's announcement of plans to make water, juice and milk the new default drink choices in Happy Meals. Under this new plan a parent will have to ask to substitute soda for one of the healthier default options. In addition, starting in 2014 McDonald's will offer side salads, fruits and vegetables as substitutes for fries in its adult value meals at no additional cost in the U.S. market.

Some skeptics may wonder just how effective this new policy will be or if it will be made moot by parents who order soda for their children anyway. Disney has already had great success with this approach in its theme parks, where more than 70 percent of parents stick with the healthy options for kids' meals when they are the default offering on the menu.

So how much better for your little ones are the Happy Meals with healthier options compared to the traditional sacks filled with a cheeseburger, fries and a soda? That Happy Meal would deliver 510 calories, 35 grams (or 8.75 teaspoons of sugar) and 760 mg of sodium. By substituting apple slices for fries and water for soda, you'd keep 25 grams (or 6.25 teaspoons) of sugar and 80 mg of sodium out of your child's mouth. That's no drop in the bucket, since the American Heart Association recommends limiting daily added sugar intake to 4 teaspoons for preschoolers and 3 teaspoons for children ages 4 to 8. (In order to accommodate all the nutritional requirements for 4- to 8-year-olds, there are fewer calories available for discretionary allowances like sugar.)

Dr. Harold Goldstein, the executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, had the following to say, “Following years of pressure by parents, nutritionists and health advocates, McDonald's has finally conceded that young children should not be washing down their Happy Meal with a sugary, calorie-laden soda. Their decision to make water, milk or juice the default option in kids’ meals is a responsible step in the right direction. We hope their competitors will also realize that it is ultimately bad business to make liquid sugar a prerequisite of children’s meals.”

I think one of the most important goals of public health work is to "make the healthy choice the easy choice." Offering drinks with no or low sugar as the norm, instead of sugary drinks, is automatically going to decrease consumption of these unhealthy drinks. I hope other eateries follow suit and that it makes people think twice about what they offer their families to drink at home. 

~ Nicole

*Nutrition amounts of the two Happy Meal options were calculated using the "Meal Builder" feature on the McDonald's website. Click through to to see how your favorites add up.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Support Your Local Library . . . and the Good People Who Work There


Though this incident didn’t take place in Contra Costa County, but rather at a public library in Hudson Falls, New York, I wanted to share what happened to a young boy who won a local reading contest and a library aide known to all the kids as “Gram.”

Nine-year-old Tyler Weaver won the annual “Dig into Reading” contest by reading 63 books. When his mother asked the local paper to report on his accomplishment, the paper contacted the library director Marie Gandron for a quote. And that’s when the trouble began. Gandron, up in arms about Tyler winning the contest for an unprecedented five times, stated that “Tyler hogs the contest every year and . . . should step aside.”

To participate in the program, children were required to read 10 books in a six-week period. Tyler’s 63 books made him the clear winner. But rather than come up with a idea that would incentivize all young readers, an upset Gandron wanted to change the rules so that the contest winner would be determined by pulling a name from a hat.

Thinking fair is fair, Lita Casey, aka Gram, an aide who had worked at the library for 28 years, went to bat for Tyler. Unfortunately, her coming to his defense caused her to be fired by the library board. Now isn’t that sad? Why would the board want to get rid of someone who loved her work and the children she helped? And why would they want to penalize a little boy who obviously loved to read? Instead, they both should have been applauded for their accomplishments.

I just wanted to present a cautionary tale about what can go wrong at a library. We are fortunate in Contra Costa County to have an incredible library system with many valuable programs for the public to take advantage of. Maybe the good folks on the library board in Hudson Falls should take a look at how things are being done here at the Contra Costa Country Library.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Lazy reporters drive me crazy.

In today's competitive 24/7 media world, the rush to write a provocative story often overrides the professional need to get the story right. And once a story is published or hits the airwaves, it gets repeated over and over whether it is correct or not.

Case in point, an August 27 Associated Press story, "Some school districts quit healthier lunch program," misleadingly implied that new healthier lunches were causing a mad rush by school districts to withdraw from the federally funded National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and led to copycat articles suggesting that children won't eat healthier food.

The AP article based the premise for the article on a false interpretation of a School Nutrition Association (SNA) survey. The reporter concluded that school food service districts were opting out of the NSLP and refusing to adopt the new Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 regulations which require more fruit, vegetables and whole grains in school meals, and less sodium and empty calories, because children won't eat healthier food. 

The SNA was so upset by the AP's inaccurate reporting that they put a  clarification on their website the next day explaining that the survey had not asked student nutrition directors if they planned to remove their entire school district from the NSLP but rather if they expected to drop any individual schools within their district from the NSLP.

According to the SNA survey of 521 school nutrition directors, "The vast majority of respondents (92.7%) reported that they do not plan, nor are they considering, dropping any schools from NSLP, clearly indicating that there is no national trend of schools dropping out of NSLP.  Only 1% of respondents reported that they plan on having a school drop NSLP and only 3.3% reported that they are considering having a school drop NSLP." 

I guess that the AP reporter decided to exaggerate because having five school nutrition directors say that they would drop one school each from the program doesn’t make a compelling national story, especially when hundreds of thousands of individual schools plan to continue in the NSLP program.

~ Paula

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Scary Chinese Chicken Nugget Connection

What country would allow chickens to be raised and slaughtered in their homeland, then shipped to China for processing into chicken nuggets and shipped back home for consumption? If you are thinking some Third World country without the nugget making technology, guess again. It’s the good old USA, and those chicken nuggets will be showing up in fast food eateries and on grocery store shelves WITHOUT any labeling indicating that they have been to China and back.
Scary? I sure think so.  And to add to it, this Chinese-processed chicken will not even be subject to USDA inspections!
China is the same country where tainted baby formula has killed hundreds of babies, and dog food imported from there has killed at least 500 dogs in this country and sickened countless others in the last few years. The food safety issues regarding China's food handling practices have been a major concern for over a decade, and in this case there will be no safeguards in place to differentiate these nuggets from domestic sources. So the question is, would you let your kids eat chicken nuggets that were processed from a source that can't even get dog treats right!
Two petitions have been started. One petition is to at least have the chicken labeled as coming from China, but is that really enough? Even if the nuggets were labeled, you can bet it would be in very small print on the back of the package someplace. Another reinstates a ban on processed poultry products from China.
Let’s just assume for a second that none of the toxic chemicals or non-food products the Chinese are infamous for adding to their food products have been added to the chicken nuggets headed back to the U.S. Can it really save money to ship the chickens halfway around the world and back? And meanwhile, somewhere in America plants that are now processing USDA-inspected chicken nuggets will close, putting many people here out of work.
What are you going to do about it?