The two stories we have done thus far on the mayor’s Healthy Children plan have delivered surprising levels of blowback. There is a notion somehow that city government in general should only focus on fiscal issues and the provision of city services — that, somehow, focusing on other areas of our community is a distraction.
As one reader responded to a potential ordinance changing default beverages on the children’s menu away from soda and high fructose juice, this is a campaign initiative that is “cluttering up our Council agenda.” They add, “I agree with the concept — but disagree that this is a local issue.”
They viewed it as a waste of time.
But how much time are we really wasting when the city council meets only until 7:10 PM on Tuesday night with only one item on the agenda after, ironically, the sugary beverage item was moved onto consent?
As Vanguard Editorial Board member Tia Will wrote, however, “I believe that this is very much a local issue. I believe that personal eating and drinking habits occur on the very local level, household by household. Children tend to see what their parents eat or provide for them as the ‘right’ way to eat and rarely question this until they become old enough to start understanding the commercials on TV or eating at friends’ houses by which time their basic preferences are fairly well established.”
We are a nation that is facing a crisis of childhood obesity and early onset diabetes, not to mention a community which contains surprising levels of poverty, considering how affluent we are on the surface. Twenty-four percent of our students are Title One. The Vanguard has heard from a number of educators who complain that kids are not getting proper nutrition, that for a sizable population, the majority of their food is consumed at the meals provided by schools.
We have vulnerable school age populations. A good percentage of the children who live in places like Royal Oak attend schools in Davis like Montgomery. There are children there whose only meals during the course of the day are the breakfast and lunch that they receive at school.
While Montgomery, as a Title I school, provides meals to children for breakfast and lunch, non-Title I schools provide only lunch. So, when we moved to South Davis and moved our kid from Patwin (a Title I school) to Pioneer, he lost the ability to receive a breakfast because it is not offered. While that is not a huge deal in our house, it may be for many other kids.
The Vanguard has continued concerns, of course, about the quantity of sugar in some of the school foods.
Will the sugary beverage portion of the initiative make a difference by itself? Absolutely not. It is why, on November 1, we wrote, “While we think the initiative and the focus on children’s health could be potentially beneficial, at the same time, we feel the list lacks a focus on some key issues.”
But from my perspective, putting this issue on the agenda moves us in the right direction, that of starting to focus more broadly on these issues. These are really issues that the city, the county and the schools need to tackle jointly.
As Vanguard Editorial Board Member Michelle Millet wrote: “I’m glad Mayor Wolk has brought attention to this issue. I hope it raises awareness about the negative effects of all sugary beverages, not just soda. (I see way too many 1st graders drinking 20 ounce containers of Gatorade).
“While this ordinance works to decrease the amount of sugary beverages served in restaurants we are continuing to serve it, (for ‘free’ to our low-income kids) in our schools in the form of chocolate milk. I hope First 5 will consider working to eliminate the distribution of this beverage in our schools’ breakfast and lunch programs.”
I share again the story of my nephew. I remember going to Patwin and being absolutely appalled by the food choices that were available for breakfast. My nephew, a few years ago, had a breakfast consisting of pastries, brownies, chocolate milk and other junk food. I was appalled and complained to the school and ultimately the school district — nothing happened.
I have since heard from teachers in schools like Montgomery that it’s a real problem because the kids, many of whom eat breakfast at school, load up on sugary food and then end up crashing mid-morning. This impacts not only their health but also their education.
Yet, when I raised the issue with some of the school board members, while they empathized, they failed to follow through.
I hope the issue will be taken more seriously now. But it illustrates the need to look beyond simply the city and look at a multi-jurisdictional approach.
Finally, as someone suggested, “I suspect this is a solution in search of a problem. If anyone thinks such an ordinance will make one iota of difference, they are living in dreamland. If parents are already allowing their children to drink lots of soda, then when the family gets to a restaurant and the kid wants soda, do you think this ordinance will make a hill of beans difference? The parent will allow their kid a soda. It is not likely such an ordinance will change anything.”
It is a good point. This is obviously a modest step. I think the reader underestimates the impact of having to opt in to a choice versus opting out of a choice.
But, more importantly, it starts setting the tone — that we need to look long and hard at the food our kids and, frankly, all of us are consuming.
One of the reasons that I “came out” as a diabetic last week was to illustrate how big a problem this is.
I was just reading a report this week from UC Davis that references a study showing that even those who know better find junk food irresistible. I definitely fall into that camp.
“People who know that certain foods are bad for them still respond positively when confronted by a picture of a burger, fries and soda,” the study found.
In the study, participants who self-reported they were nutritionally knowledgeable, but who didn’t have healthy eating habits, reacted more positively to images of “junk food” than images of healthy food. I have certainly fallen into that category.
“They know the consequences of eating unhealthy foods,” said the study’s author, Narine Yegiyan, an assistant professor of communication. “They are almost there in terms of willingness to give them up, but they are biologically struggling with it.”
She said the findings are important in shaping healthy eating campaigns aimed at these people who are prime candidates for eating behavior change.
Because this group initially responds positively to junk food images, healthy eating messages must be carefully crafted to prevent a “boomerang effect,” she said.
“Showing a picture of chips and saying ‘these are bad for you’ may just make them grab a bag of chips,” she said. “Encouraging them to eat healthy food like broccoli and carrots would be more effective. If images of junk food are going to be used they need to be accompanied by a very strong message stating why this is bad for you.”
Otherwise such images may “transfer into an increased desire to consume the unhealthy product,” the study states.
One point I want to leave people with is that, while I am grateful for all of the support I have received since writing that personal piece, and I certainly understand the horrible health effects of diabetes, the toughest thing on a day-to-day basis is fighting lifelong eating impulses.
And that is why I stand so strongly behind this initiative, not as the solution to the problem of sugar in young people’s diets, but as the start for this community to recognize how serious a problem this is and start to change the way we eat and, more importantly, the way we feed our kids and build bad habits from day one.
—David M. Greenwald reporting