AT THE HELM: BATTLING THE JUNK FOOD MONSTER
January 11, 2008 11:00 pm

By Scott Graves

Pilot staff writer

The world is full of sweet temptations: Pop tarts, cotton candy, Oreo cookies and super-sized sodas for just 20 cents more!

Who can resist?

It's no different at home. Especially for kids, who claim they'll explode if they get too close to a vegetable.

I admit, it's hard to tell your child to pick an apple over a candy bar when you're secretly craving a piece of chocolate cake before dinner. But giving in to temptation only leads you down the road to ... obesity!

That's what the continuous onslaught of medical research, reports and studies keep telling us. And still we munch on. So much so that some studies show that nearly 25 percent of Americans are now obese – that means two out of eight people are likely to become obese. Another 15 percent are just a few french fries short of falling into that category.

Obesity is known to lead to many health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

Think of that the next time your child asks for a second helping of cheesy poofs.

The marketers of junk food are no help. In fact, they've become a sworn enemy in my house.

According to a report from the Center For Science In The Public Interest (CSPI) – the same group that pointed out the hidden fat in popcorn and in Mexican food – some of the biggest culprits of childhood obesity are companies that specifically market junk food to kids.

Well, duh.

Watch a half-hour of any children's show on commercial TV and you'll be bombarded with ads for dino nuggets, fish-shaped crackers and sugary cereals featuring a certain delinquent leprechaun or hyperactive bunny.

And many companies have Web sites and kids-oriented games and contests to attract and keep kids eating junk food. All this marketing puts parents in a unfair position.

We can turn the TV off, and that helps, but it's like fighting a Hydra, the mythical multi-headed serpent who, when one head was cut off, grew two more.

The best defense is a simple, two-letter word: No.

Fast food companies are going directly to kids and saying, "Eat this! Yes, yes, yes!" Parents have to say "No, no, no!"

Of course that often leads to your child turning into a multi-headed Hydra. But at least it's one you can put in a time out.

Parents must lead by example in eating healthy (at least when the kids are awake.) Stand firm and don't let the junk food marketers, with their sleek campaigns, undermine your parental authority, and your kid's health.

At the same time, don't overreact. Nobody likes a junk food exterminator. Moderation is the key – it will help keep the little serpents at bay.

Sometimes, it's okay to grab that candy bar instead of an apple, or eat that piece of chocolate cake before dinner.

Just don't tell Mom.