More Halloween Strategies


We have walked, step by step, through some possible ways to handle Halloween with a three-pronged intention: minimize candy acquisition, minimize candy retention, and minimize candy consumption. In this timeline, the children are back from their trick-or-treat journey, and, ideally, caregivers and kids have negotiated the ensuing decisions beforehand.

As we have shown, negotiations are not wide-open. There are definite boundaries — for instance, before trick-or-treating, kids will eat a supper that includes a vegetable. Which vegetable? That’s negotiable. A parent might agree to provide a special excursion, if the kids agree to give away half their Halloween swag. But they get to decide which items to donate, and which charity receives the donation.

Here are more ideas about how a creative approach, plus previously made agreements, can potentially take this popular holiday to the next level. It’s worth doing, and doable.

Post Trick-or-Treat Protocol

If your household is distributing treats of any kind, you and your kids figure out together, ahead of time, what will happen to the leftovers. Edible leftovers, obviously, won’t be saved for next year. If you gave out some other kind of treat, as described in the Childhood Obesity News post “Remodeling Halloween,” let the kids decide whether to put away the remainder for next year. It’s probably not a big deal one way or another, but let them make some decisions and you’re more likely to get your way about other matters, without pushback.

One agreement that should be put in place is about how much can be consumed back home on the night itself. Negotiate the amount of swag that will be surrendered, by weight or by piece. This might be a good time to sneak in some math. It is in the child’s interest to know whether keeping 10 items is better than keeping one-tenth the of the entire haul.

In return for setting a limit (and sticking to it) what does the child get? You might plan an activity that removes the focus from eating. This is a great time for a photo session, especially if you and/or your kids have made your own brilliant, innovative costumes. If you decorated your yard, porch, hallway, or living room, don’t forget to document those accomplishments.

Take pictures of the candy haul, and then put it away for the time being. Tell stories about interesting things that happened while collecting the thousands of calories. Remember funny incidents from other Halloweens. Call friends or relatives and ask how their holiday went. Tell ghost stories. With preparation beforehand, you can use this time to play an elaborate, spooky game like the one immortalized by the writer Ray Bradbury.

It might be interesting to take a look at this article by Lizzie Hedrick, titled, “Parents can use Halloween as a teachable moment.” She quotes Donna Spruijt-Metz, whose mother taught her to evaluate the contents of her Halloween collection bag and think about what was worth keeping. This is important because kids tend to simply eat whatever is available, even if they don’t particularly enjoy it.

The object of all these suggestions is to demonstrate that, just because people have piles of candy, they don’t have to cram all it down their throats in one sitting. Another objective is to remind parents that little children need time and approval from their parents.

These are ways to spend quality time with people who, in their heart of hearts, value your attention more than sugar. If you want a candy-less Halloween, or anyway with less candy, provide enough entertaining activities, and that just might be possible.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Parents can use Halloween as a teachable moment,”, 10/30/15
Image by Dan Foy

Halloween Strategies

Halloween is acknowledged to be a very difficult time for children who are overweight or heading that way. Childhood Obesity News suggests ways to ease the stress of the situation by adopting some new “best practices“; banding together with neighbors to create a new local culture; asking schools and churches to retool their traditions; setting an innovative precedent that will make next year easier; and generally shifting the paradigm from a food holiday to an activity holiday.

We have covered the run-up to the holiday with suggestions for creating so much activity and enjoyment beforehand that the whole candy fetish loses importance and becomes not only secondary, but irrelevant. Maybe your family has already decided to distribute non-food treats, and accomplished this by letting the kids decide what will be given out instead. Maybe a tradition has already been established of skipping the trick-or-treat part altogether, and throwing a party that concentrates on theatrics and activities, rather than food. If so, congratulations!

This next section addresses the family in which going out to collect goodies is still on the menu. In this case, candy acquisition is a part of ongoing reality — but only a part. The rates of candy retention and consumption can still be impacted. If enough other interesting things are going on, it’s totally possible that agreements can be made. But you don’t want to spring anything on the kids. The ideal is to have agreements in place, and understood by all, before the event.

Agree to agree

Start by clarifying the goals, which are to put a lid on the collection of loot, and to set up some kind of rationing schedule so the sweets will not all be gobbled down at once — or maybe even swap them out for something else. Elicit a child’s cooperation in making a plan, and you’re halfway to success. When parents and kids negotiate an agreement ahead of time, everybody wins.

Of course, parents are quite justified in laying down some ground rules. For instance, on trick-or-treat night, a healthful meal will be served and vegetables will be eaten. Parents can step up and do their best to fill the children up with a good meal packed with vitamins. And, it goes without saying, skip the dessert.

As for the rest, it’s a collaboration that might take a little coaxing, and some persuasion. One suggestion is to not try to reach agreement in one fell swoop. The discussion might include a second, and even third stage. Bring it up, put it on the table, and come back to it. Sure, you want to make a change this year, but remember, the greater purpose is to set a precedent for future years and future additions to the family.

A lot depends on the kid (or kids) and the circumstances. It might be well to start as early as possible to define limits. Or maybe the better path is to wait until a certain amount of fun has been had (see the links in the first paragraph) and trick-or-treat might not seem so important. They might be ready to let it go.

Acquisition limitation

Depending on the neighborhood, environment, weather, age range, and other factors, trick-or-treating can be limited, and advance negotiation is the name of the game. The time to work these things out is when the pile of brightly wrapped sugar bombs is still theoretical. The more input a child has the higher the chance of a good outcome.

One possibility is to set a time limit of 30 minutes or an hour of trick-or-treat wandering. Again, it depends on the surroundings, because you don’t want to encourage rudeness, where kids just grab the offerings without saying “Thank you” and then run away, knocking down other merry-makers. You also don’t want to inspire reckless street-crossing, dangerous shortcuts, or other unwise methods of making the most of the time.

Another way to set a parameter is by mapping out a route beforehand. Get some exercise by walking around with the child or children before Halloween, to plan the most promising course of action. You may be familiar with the neighborhood and know from previous years who has the best goodies. The amount of spooky decorations around a home might also be a good indicator.

The goal is to make a plan, agree to it, and stick to it. Or agree to limit the potential harvest by carrying only a small bag, plastic pumpkin, or other container.

A goal to try for is, no eating while on the trick-or-treat expedition. For one thing, anticipation makes even the best rewards sweeter. Also, despite what many people see as needless hysteria about evil neighbors, it is a good idea for parents to give everything a once-over before anybody eats anything. Furthermore, if kids plan to swap with each other afterward, it would be silly to gobble down anything that might be traded for an even better treat, if only they waited.

Next: After trick or treat, what?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Image by Cristian Iohan Stefanescu

How to Make Halloween Memories


Taking the sugar out of Halloween is a worthy goal, and Childhood Obesity News has been looking at how to make the holiday so interesting and satisfying in other ways that the absence of high-calorie treats will not be seriously missed. We talked about substituting cute or fascinating little objects for candy in the trick-or-treat game, and that idea can be expanded even further.

This is an especially fertile ground for any family lucky enough to live in a house. A front yard is the ultimate bonus playground for Halloween fun. You can make tombstones from cardboard and prop them up with sticks, for instance. The same goes for weird little gnome-like figures, black cats with arched backs, and so forth.

Now, some might say, “We can buy those things” — but that is a temptation to be avoided. The whole idea here is to create absorbing activities that a child can take part in, and fill the weeks that lead up to the holiday with these activities. Another advantage of cardboard is that it doesn’t need to be stored until next year, but can be recycled.

If there is a porch, so much the better. Spider webs are the obvious go-to decoration, and they are moderately priced at stores. Make a witch’s cauldron, use weird glow-stick lighting — the Internet is full of ideas for spooky stage settings. A child with a theatrical streak might find that staying on a porch, cackling and stirring a cauldron, and handing out sugar-free trinkets, sounds more attractive than trekking around the neighborhood.

Yards and porches are not essential. If the neighborhood is safe enough a family might use the front hall or foyer for the Halloween den. Decorate it to the max, dress up, play spooky music, engage in performance art to your heart’s content, and have a ball. Older kids with the space and the ambition can make a backyard or garage into a haunted house. The point here is that preparation keeps the kids busy and provides the opportunity for creative participation from the whole family.

Different circumstances, different kids

Maybe the situation doesn’t allow for such public displays of Halloween spirit. One low-impact alternative is to use the time that precedes the holiday to write and illustrate an original ghost story. Even indoors, there are plenty of challenging and entertaining creative projects. Plain white masks are very cheap, and can be decorated in many different ways with crayons, markers, paint, and glued-on odds and ends.

If there isn’t much space, miniaturize. Make a Halloween roombox, which is similar to a dollhouse, but has only one room. Use odds and ends of cloth, plastic, string, styrofoam, or whatever is around, to create furniture and monsters; and use a small flashlight, LED lights or glow sticks to create an eerie effect.

Many parents shy away from pumpkin carving because of the mess factor. This is where those cute little miniature pumpkins enter the picture. They too can be carved, or drawn on, or decorated in other ways. The object is to give kids something to do other than obsess about a trove of candy, and fill up time with creative activity that they enjoy.

Dress-up time

Which brings us to costumes. Every family should have a dress-up box to throw odds and ends into all year. When Halloween approaches see what can be made from the collected discards. This is a suggestion we’ve made before, and it might help to keep a trick-or-treater from chowing down before the candy even comes home.

Consider some kind of outfit where the child’s mouth is blocked by a duck bill or something. If they’re trick-or-treating around the neighborhood, you don’t want their vision impaired. But a mask that covers the lower part of the face is an excellent way to prevent candy from being consumed en route.

In most kids, the love of costuming is so strong that it can be harnessed in a very positive way. Make a real project out of it, and sugar lust might take a backseat. When all the people are satisfactorily dressed, start in on the pet. Pinterest points to thousands of ideas for Halloween fun, many of them unconnected with food in any way.


If your family is fortunate enough to live in a city where haunted houses materialize just before Halloween every year, see how many of them you can visit. Explore the feasibility of walking to biking to these destinations, for the exercise value. If your city has secondhand stores, visit them, and again think about traveling on foot or by bike if at all possible.

Leading up to Halloween, devote an afternoon (or several) to rummaging around in search of inspiration for your costume or home decor. Browsing the racks and shelves at a thrift store can be so absorbing kids might even forget to nag for soda and junk food.

You get the picture. Redesign the Halloween tradition to emphasize creativity and family togetherness, and maybe by the time the actual holiday rolls around, candy will be the last thing on your kids’ minds. It’s worth a try.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Photo credit (from left to right): Trish Hamme via Visualhunt/CC BY
Photo credit: Logan Ingalls via Visualhunt/CC BY
Photo credit: Eric.Ray via Visualhunt/CC BY

Remodeling Halloween

So we’ve been talking about Halloween with three major precepts in mind. The goals are to minimize candy acquisition, retention and consumption. If acquisition can be minimized, the other two points become moot. What can we do to make the collection of Halloween candy less important? One answer is to remodel the holiday by switching the emphasis to creativity and participation.

A good starting tactic is to shine the spotlight on giving, rather than getting. If the family traditionally participates in the trick-or-treat ritual by passing out candy, a parent can introduce change simply by asking for ideas about what will be distributed instead. The candy part isn’t open for discussion, but everything else is. Kids might not fully grasp the multitude of inexpensive alternatives that are available, so below are a few suggestions to start off with.

Stickers, stamps, noisemakers, kazoos, glow sticks (and necklaces and bracelets), temporary tattoos, Halloween-themed pencils, finger puppets, crayons, vampire teeth, miniature jack-o-lanterns, tiny yo-yos, modeling clay, small bottles of bubble soap, erasers, little rubber balls, balloons, plastic cars or planes, little puzzles, foam shapes, googly eyes, colorful pipe cleaners, plastic animals…

Many online companies offer trinkets and gizmos in bulk amounts. Many cities have “dollar stores” where vast quantities of fascinating gimcracks and geegaws can be bought for cheap. Of course, the villain we want to avoid is sugar. Some opt for sugar-free candy or gum, or miniature units of fish crackers or pretzels, but to avoid arguments about “Why is this candy okay but not that other candy?” it might be politic to limit the options to non-edible items.

This may sound weird, but…

If you really want to get fancy, plan to give each trick-or-treater a quarter coin, or a couple of them. Here’s the trick. Get hold of some tissue paper and ribbon in the official Halloween colors, and sit down with your child or children to dress up the quarters. Cut a four-inch square of black tissue paper (two layers works better than one), set a coin or coins in the middle, bunch the paper together and give it a twist, then tie it with orange ribbon.

In fact, the same gift-wrapping could be done with whatever little non-candy treats have been chosen. Cute wrapping makes it more special, and there is another advantage. Any hardline, regressive trick-or-treater who might be inclined to make a fuss about not receiving candy will be stymied. Who’s going to pause, in the desperate rush to hit as many houses as possible, to open a mystery package right there and then?

But this gift-wrapping idea is so time-consuming! Which is exactly the point. When kids are small, what they treasure more than anything is face time with a parent. Take advantage of that precious window of opportunity before it’s too late. Relax, and invest some time in doing an easy, no-pressure task with the child or children. It might even be an opportunity to answer questions, in a calm and unpreachy way, about why sugary treats are to be avoided.

Parents and other caregivers, if you need a refresher course on that subject, we recommend any or all of the following Childhood Obesity News posts:

Should Sugar Be the Boss of Us?
How Evil Is Sugar?
The Gateway Drug: Sugar, Part 1
Sugar, Addiction, and Sugar Addiction

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Photo credit: Kevin Dooley via Visualhunt/CC BY

Halloween — a Paradigm Shift


Childhood Obesity News has offered numerous posts explaining the insidious harm that can be done by Halloween. Here’s a quick review of the holiday’s disadvantages, along with some suggestions for “best practices” that can bring about great improvement in the results without losing any of the fun.

It’s easy for a parent to self-delude and think, “What the heck? It’s only one day. How bad can it be?” The thing is, there might be a whole series of parties — school, church, neighborhood, friends — that provide many opportunities to overindulge. Altogether, they can contribute a stash of sugar bombs that hang around for a long time.

One researcher figured out that an average trick-or-treat bag adds up to three cups of sugar and 4,800 calories. Another determined that Americans gobble down about 4% of their annual candy consumption on that one day, which is about 14 times as much as an ordinary day’s intake.

Additionally, the spook festival kicks off the quadruple-threat constellation of winter holidays that traditionally include Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. In our multi-cultural society, a number of other religious and ethnic holidays also pile on.

For kids, when all is said and done, it’s not unusual to see a gain of seven to 10 pounds, by springtime, that are not part of normal growth. If Halloween eating can be minimized, that delays the weight-gain trend that can otherwise resemble the proverbial snowball rolling down a hill.

It gets worse

And those are just the problems facing “normal” kids. The negativity quotient rises when allergies and the specter of food addiction are taken into account. Dr. Pretlow, of course, specializes in dealing with children who are already overweight or obese. The extensive information gathered from actual kids, via his Weigh2Rock website, tells a sadder tale. For heavy kids who are already struggling Halloween is one of the year’s most difficult times. Its approach generates anxiety and shame, and, for some, absolute dread.

New goals

What we want to do is remember three key points: minimize candy acquisition, retention and consumption. And then there is a very important fourth point, which is changing this problematic holiday into an opportunity for family togetherness. As we have said before: When a family puts time and energy into a project, they get extra mileage out of the holiday, with zero (or drastically reduced) caloric input.

The idea here is to imagine something wonderful, design it, and turn it into reality. Yes, it is possible. When the American Dental Association did a Halloween Consumer Study, they learned that nine out of 10 kids would still like Halloween if the candy aspect were muted and the opportunities for other types of fun were increased.

How to proceed

First-time parents have a great advantage because often they can get away with simply ignoring Halloween. Without older siblings who are accustomed to the old ways, that tactic is a lot easier to get away with. Parents of very young children are also advantaged when it comes to refocusing on the fun part. Little kids want face-time activities with Mom and/or Dad that provide positive attention in a playful context. For them, it’s worth more than edible treats.

If more than one grownup is involved with raising a child, they need to get together to clarify and solidify the position. Allies need to be recruited. If there is a babysitter, a nanny, grandparents, or neighbors in the picture, everyone needs to be gently but firmly initiated into the new paradigm. Parents need to inform themselves about what the plans are at their children’s daycare center, preschool, or grade school.

If at all possible, jump in there and influence those plans! Help to create sugar-free events, and shift the emphasis from consumption to action. In some communities, troops of costumed kiddies are taken to assisted-living facilities and retirements homes, to parade for the delight of the residents. This is a great idea, especially if the staff members are specifically requested to leave candy out of it. The chance to be seen and admired is quite enough of a reward for a little child.

We also recommend a short work of imagination called “My Halloween, by Curly.” Narrated by a fictitious child, it’s about a dad who knits together a number of fresh suggestions and stage-manages a new-paradigm Halloween for his own child and five friends.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Photo credit: Martin Cathrae via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

Coke in Colombia


Any fan of the TV series Narcos knows that terrible things have been done in Colombia. But cocaine crime lords are not the only ones with murderous reputations. Nik Bonopartis reported last month that Coca-Cola has finally been accused of having many of its opponents eliminated by hired assassins:

The details, which have emerged as the Colombian government works out a peace deal with remnants of guerilla groups, include accusations that the Coca-Cola company paid off hitmen to kill at least 10 labor leaders who were trying to organize unions.

Right-wing paramilitary groups serve as private armies to protect the interests of Coke and other corporate entities. Their victims have included not only union organizers and members, but left-leaning thought influencers and other human rights activists.

This comes as no surprise to, which has been tracking the activities of these mercenaries for years. An archival page on their website contains detailed accounts of past misbehavior, and honors many of the deceased by listing their names and death dates.

According to the organization:

Coca-Cola, which is virulently anti-union, claims that any allegations that its bottlers in Colombia are involved in the systematic intimidation, kidnapping, torture, and murder of union leaders are false. Yet the company has fought every effort to have an independent investigation into these allegations while at the same time has misled the public and its own shareholders with a long string of lies and bogus investigations.

The soft drink giant made worldwide news in 2003 when trade unions called for a global boycott of the corporation’s products because of the violence connected with its “business as usual.” Sinaltrainal, the food and drink union, had filed a lawsuit in Miami against Coke and its Colombian bottling plant partners, but the judge let Coke off the hook.

Although the boycott received press coverage in other countries, the local media had little to say. Union president Javier Correa told a reporter, “In Colombia it is very difficult for this type of case to make it into local media. It’s all part of the culture of impunity.” Meanwhile, the International Confederation of Trade Unions confirmed that Colombia was the most dangerous nation for union members of all kinds, with 184 violent deaths in a single year.

Not content with causing death by the slow process of diabetes and other conditions generated by use of its products, Coke apparently has a hand in more immediate and messy methods of slaughter. But it does not ignore non-violent methods of protecting itself.

Only last month, Colombia’s government ordered the ban of a television advertisement that described the health hazards inherent in sugar-sweetened beverages, and, according to journalist Kerry Cullinan, it was “not because the advertisement was misleading or inaccurate”:

A division of the Colombian Ministry of Industry Commerce, the Superintendent of Industry and Commerce (SIC), ordered a civil society coalition to stop all their mass media advertising against sugary drinks.

The government’s action was requested by Colombia’s biggest soft-drink manufacturer, Postobon, which is ostensibly Coke’s rival in business. But in the upper strata of world economic dominance, Coca-Cola and Postobon and every similar corporation are on the same side, collaborating to resist and destroy any individual or group that attempts to weaken their power.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Colombia: Coca-Cola Financed Terror Group,”, 09/02/16
Source: “Coke’s Crimes in Colombia,”, undated
Source: “Coca-Cola boycott launched after killings at Colombian plants,”, 07/23/03
Source: “Taking on Big Food: How low-income countries are targeted for distribution of junk food,”, 09/13/16
Photo credit: A.Davey via Visualhunt/CC BY

Coke in Australia

Less than a year ago, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists announced that obesity is one of the most important challenges faced by those countries. Almost half of the pregnant women under their jurisdiction are overweight or obese, and many experience high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, and other serious problems.

Consequently, many births are induced. Obviously, it’s best for a baby to stay inside as long as possible — unless it is dangerously large, a condition known as foetal macrosomia. According to The Sunday Telegraph:

The large size can lead to a wide spread of potential birth defects and developmental abnormalities. Babies born to an obese mother face a higher chance of having low blood sugar, high blood pressure, jaundice and a higher chance of developing childhood obesity.

So the doctor has to make a judgment call, and weigh the risks of interference against the risks of letting nature take its course.

Only last month, the government of New South Wales issued a report warning that one out of five of the state’s children is overweight or obese. It is estimated that the average child obtains more than a third of her or his daily calories from junk food and sugar-sweetened beverages. One-quarter of the teenagers drink at least five sugary drinks per week. In the country as a whole, the proportion of overweight kids has doubled since the 1980s.

In tune with the party line adopted by the entire junk food and sugar-sweetened beverage infrastructure, Coca-Cola still maintains that if people get fat it is their own darn fault, for not exercising the calories off. That’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.

Last summer, Coke was outed as being behind some “astroturf” groups, and pretended to atone by promising to reveal all its connections with research projects and health groups. It disclosed its multi-million dollar support of “health and wellbeing partnerships” in the U.S., and then clammed up again.

But somehow, those American revelations enabled interested parties to learn something about similar activities in Australia — like the $100,000 grant that was made to a University of Queensland professor for research on treating metabolic syndrome with exercise. When asked why he went to Coca-Cola for money, Dr. Coombes laid responsibility at the door of the Australian government, which had supposedly encouraged academics to solicit help from businesses, because public funds would not be forthcoming.

The celebrated Professor Marion Nestle, who happened at the time to be filling a guest position at the University of Sydney, added her voice to the chorus demanding transparency. Writers Marcus Strom and Patrick Hatch recommend Nestle’s latest publication:

In her book Soda Politics, Professor Nestle dedicates three chapters explaining how Coca-Cola and PepsiCo target ethnic minorities and the poor in their marketing campaigns and through sponsorship of minority organizations.

This exploitation of the disadvantaged is what inspires so many people to experience such deep dislike of Coke and its gang of sugar pushers.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Supersized babies: Newborns weighing more at birth adding to obesity crisis,”, 12/05/15
Source: “Obesity is the new normal with one in five children overweight or obese,”, 09/17/16
Source: “What Coca-Cola isn’t telling you about its health funding in Australia,”, 02/24/16
Photo credit: cangaroojack via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

Coke in South Africa

Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News compared Coca-Cola’s attempt to dominate world economy with classic colonialism. In the old days, the conquering nation would erect statues of the king of the Netherlands or England, or whatever acquisitive European country had decided to swoop in and take over some region of the world.

The good news is, the hideous structure pictured here occupied the Capetown waterfront for only three years before it was dismantled (apparently, according to the original plan, rather than because of any public outcry.) The bad news is, Coke commissioned the erection of several similar abominations throughout South Africa.

The “fun facts” about the Crate Man include its height (50 or 60 feet, depending on which source you go by), its weight (more than 25 tons), and the number of crates in it (2,600 or maybe 4,200, again, depending on which source is consulted.) It was constructed around an armature of metal scaffolding. The designer’s name was Porky Hefer, quite appropriate considering that Coke is so closely associated with obesity.

The really fun part is that this creation supposedly served the public by educating people about the importance of recycling. Critics did not fail to point out the irony, which is that Coca Cola is one of the earth’s largest producers of plastic waste ever to encumber the planet.

In 1992, each South African consumed an average 130 items of Coca-Cola product per year. By 2010, that average was up to 254 Coke products per person, per year, and that seems to be the latest figure available. Surprisingly, about 35 other countries have more childhood obesity. There is some talk of a soda tax, but part of the problem seems to be a lack of accessible clean water, and when that is the case, the poor are at even more of a disadvantage.

South Africa is what the economists call an “emerging market,” meaning that the people can be persuaded to buy even more stuff in the future. Emerging markets are the exact kind in which Coca-Cola loves to invest, and the corporation is in the middle of a 10-year plan calling for $17 billion worth of investment in the African continent.

Some recognize this as a flawed solution to the country’s financial needs. But for South Africa and many other struggling national economies, exigency often makes the decisions. People need jobs, so governments make special concessions, and liberally extend privileges to businesses that wave handfuls of cash at them.

In the South African publication Daily Maverick, a brand new article mentions what the local academics refer to as the “nutrition transition,” described as…

[…] a shift from traditional diets based largely on staple grains or starchy roots, legumes, vegetables and fruits but minimal animal foods, towards more energy-dense, processed foods, more foods of animal origin and more added sugar, salt and fat.

Of course, journalist Kerry Cullinan adds:

Food company spin doctors would have us believe that the worldwide explosion of obesity is a product of human laziness. While a lack of exercise plays a role, the key driver of obesity is the mass consumption of processed food and sugary drinks.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Shelf Life: No more crate man,”, 06/27/13
Source: “Taking on Big Food: How low-income countries are targeted for distribution of junk food,”, 09/13/16
Photo credit: South African Tourism via Visualhunt/CC BY

Sugar-Sweetened Beverages on the World Stage

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is all over the food and beverage business. It educates the public, advocates for sane government policy, and pushes back against industry lobbying and propaganda, with the goal of getting healthier food into people. Their “About” page lists 10 bullet points of particular concern, one of which is “Reduce the consumption of soda and other sugary drinks.”

Earlier this year, the CSPI issued a report titled “Carbonating the World” that flat-out accused soda manufacturers of “borrowing a page from the tobacco industry playbook and investing heavily to boost consumption in low- and middle-income countries.” The industry must be in a state approaching panic, because in America, a quarter of its business has disappeared.

In the United States, per-capita consumption of carbonated sugar-sweetened drinks declined by 25 percent between 1998 and 2014, and sales are projected to decline further in North America and in Western Europe.

But in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, the people can’t get enough of the stuff. Coca-Cola has a 10-year investment plan aimed at Indonesia, the Philippines, China, India, Africa, Brazil, and Mexico, whose astonishing numbers are spelled out on a fascinating chart.

When an industry is willing to spend billions with a “B” it must be expecting to get, in return, trillions with a “T”. With that much money on the table:

[…] the companies are promoting diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, heart disease, and other soda-related diseases to countries already struggling to provide health care to their growing populations.

The CSPI is too polite to suggest this, but would it be crazy to imagine that soda manufacturers diversify their own investments into such areas as dental practices, exercise machines, personal oxygen delivery systems, coffins, and funeral homes?

As always, Coke goes after the young. People in their teens and twenties are specifically identified as the “core demographic,” which is in this case synonymous with “target,” “victim,” or “dupe.” Listen to this charming quotation from the marketing boss in Egypt:

We have young generations who can consume any kind of food and beverage, not caring about their health yet.

Coke and Pepsi have of course publicly pledged not to market to children, a promise that could most charitably be called hollow. Are those cartoon characters supposed to appeal to adults? How about the Barbie endorsement in Brazil, the advertising in South African schools, the music and social media tie-ins? All that hoopla is for grownups? Really?

The 51 million diabetics in India aren’t enough. It’s not sufficient that Mexico already ranks #1 in adult obesity; apparently Coke wants the country to aspire to some level of obese notoriety that is lower than the worst. Old-school colonization was brutal, as we know from history books — but now it’s done not with armies but with dollars and tankers full of high fructose corn syrup.

Oh, and guess what Coca-Cola has gone and done in Africa? Become the continent’s largest employer, an economic fact that should send chills down every spine.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Soda Companies Turning to Low- and Middle-Income Countries to Replace Sagging U.S. Soda Sales,”, 02/09/16
Photo credit: Coca-Cola South Africa via VisualHunt/CC BY-ND

Rankled by Rankings

Whenever some person or institution presumes to judge the best of anything there are bound to be some unhappy losers. So far, no town has threatened to sue or boycott Money magazine for its decrees about the healthiest American cities. The best were chosen “based on a range of factors, including access to medical care, rates of common diseases, and the residents’ own assessments of their personal health.”

The editors note that the focus this year was on small cities, so no metropolis should have hurt feelings. Among those small cities, Provo, Utah, earned the #8 spot, because it has the lowest rate of childhood obesity in the nation. First place went to Highlands Ranch, Colorado, mainly because it has the country’s lowest adult obesity rate.

Provo, Utah, is just a city, but apparently, Oregon is the entire state with the lowest childhood obesity rate. (The page this information came from also boasts an extensive and eye-opening infographic.)

The global picture

The United Nations established a list of Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, a list so capacious that all the goals can’t be evaluated at once. Journalist Tamara Rosin explains:

For the latest study, researchers estimated the performance of 33 health-related SDG indicators for 188 countries from 1990 to 2015. The SDGs, which include the Millennium Development Goals and the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors Study of 2015, measure things like poverty, clean water and education, as well as societal inequality and industry innovation.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation financed the work of the 1,870 researchers who arrived at the answers. Overall, America ranks 28th, slightly better than Estonia. In the child obesity category, the U.S. placed 69th. Admittedly, this is a worsening problem worldwide, and there seems to be little correlation between a country’s economic health and its childhood obesity status. Still, the fact that the situation is better in 68 other countries is a cause for serious concern.

Research and its limitations

Earlier this year, the Clinical Research Institute (Duke University) published the results of data analysis derived from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES), which collects data in two-year increments. The team, headed by Dr. Asheley Skinner, asserted that NHANES is the most accurate source of information, concluded that no decline in obesity had taken place in any age group.

In June, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the report from a multi-author “Original Investigation” carried out by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Public Health Service. It added little to the overall understanding of the problem, but Howell Wechsler, of Alliance for a Healthier Generation, attempted a clarification:

In simplest terms, here is what we learned from the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on children and adolescent obesity: there has been modest progress with the youngest age group, flattening levels of obesity with kids and a slight increase in obesity rates among adolescents.

For the study authors themselves, the grand finale was the anticlimactic pronouncement that more research is needed. Meanwhile, Duke University has calculated that each obese child will incur nearly $20,000 worth of lifetime costs for health problems related to obesity.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The 10 Healthiest Places to Live in America,”, 09/19/16
Source: “Child Obesity in the United States and How to Fight It,”, 06/31/16
Source: “US ranked No. 28 in world for health, living standards,”, 09/26/16
Source: “Childhood obesity rates continue to climb, study finds,”, 04/26/16
Source: “Trends in Obesity Prevalence Among Children and Adolescents in the United States, 1988-1994 Through 2013-2014,”, 06/08/16
Source: “Medical cost of childhood obesity is $19,000, researchers say,”, 04/07/16
Image by Christopher Dombres

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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