Candy Culture

gummy bears

As a kid, I frequently went on errands with my mom–the typical stuff like bank, library, offices of various kinds, supermarket, meat market. Occasionally, if I was really good, she’d buy one of those little square chocolate bars with fruit and nuts, and we’d share it.

Otherwise, candy wasn’t a feature of my day-to-day childhood, and soda was not a regular beverage in our household–we’d have a bottle or two of ginger ale stashed for illnesses, but it was a real treat to get a root beer or a Hawaiian Punch. Holidays and visits to grandparents’ houses were exceptions, of course.

I try to follow that same policy with my son when it comes to treats, but it’s a lot harder to do these days. It seems that in every office, every bank, every place I stop on my errands, there is a bowl of candy sitting there. Heck, in a lot of places, if you are going through a drive-through, they’ll put a sucker or Tootsie Roll in with your receipt if they see you have a kid in the car.

Not only that, but in a lot of schools and at a lot of kids’ activities, prizes for achievement are candy and soda (sometimes three liter bottles!), and many of the fundraising drives done by schools focus on selling sweet treats. You just cannot get away from it.

You can respond, “well, just tell him he can’t have it.” And yes, I can, and I have. But when your kid returns from a field trip with a half-consumed pop in hand, or he wins a prize for reading and comes home clutching a bagful of candy (a large amount of which he’s already stuffed in his mouth), what exactly is the right thing to do?

Great job, kiddo, now give me that soda, so I can dump it down the sink!

It’d be one thing if it was an infrequent occurrence (and if well-meaning adults didn’t think it’s “better” to hand a kid a zero-calorie chemical cocktail as a “healthier” alternative to HFCS-laden pop), but it’s not. Kids today have far greater exposure to sugary treats on a daily basis than most of us ever did. And it’s wearing on parents to constantly say no, no, no to the sweet barrage.

Still, I don’t think the answer is more government regulation of treats. There’s been a great deal of discussion in the health community about whether making sugary beverages “controlled substances” could help alleviate the obesity epidemic in this country–especially among children.

Frankly, I doubt such regulations would pass (as NYC Mayor Bloomberg has discovered), and as a colleague of mine commented, the last thing you want is people holding up a 36oz. soda as a sign of independence or victory over Big Government.

The Ortonville Early Childhood Initiative took a laudable step in the right direction earlier this month by offering healthier treats, like real fruit leather, as prizes at the annual Sports & Leisure Show kids’ carnival. Parents and others who are concerned about the health of children should take an active role in limiting the amount of treats kids are exposed to–by (politely, of course) asking businesses to put away their candy bowls and insisting that schools and organizers of kids’ activities provide healthier treats and prizes.

Stashing the public candy dishes and offering health-conscious prizes and fundraising activities are small steps in the fight against childhood obesity, and government and the health care industry most certainly have a role in the bigger picture, as well.

It will take work on all levels to cut down on the pervasive presence of unhealthy snacks and to curb the candy culture that exists in our country.

What do you see as appropriate roles for parents, educators, government, and others in this fight?

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