With 20 percent of the nation’s children obese, the United States Department of Agriculture, as called out in this New York Times article, has proposed new standards for federally subsidized school meals that call for more balanced meals and, for the first time, a limit on calories. The current standard specifies only a minimum calorie count, which some schools meet by adding sweet foods.
Earlier this year, when Michelle Obama, as part of her campaign against childhood obesity, announced that Wal-Mart would reduce salt and sugar in its packaged foods, she said, “We’re beginning to see the ripple effects on the choices folks are making about how they feed their kids.”
But this effort is up against an array of powerful forces, from economics to biology, all of which are playing out in Philadelphia, where the obesity rate is among the nation’s highest. At the intersection of North 28th and West Oxford Streets, the Oxford Food Shop and the William D. Kelley School are in a tug of war over the cravings of kids.
Points to mull over:
- Scientists have demonstrated the power of sugar since at least 1974, when a Brooklyn College professor, Anthony Sclafani, found that lab rats were so drawn to Froot Loops that they would suppress their natural fear to eat in the exposed areas of their cages.
- Researchers using brain imagining technology have since found that foods high in sugar or fat activate the same reward system as cocaine and other drugs, and can also set off the release of the neural chemical dopamine, which can cause the brain to override the biological brakes that prevent overeating.
- While research suggests that as little as an extra 200 calories a day can make an adult overweight, a recent study led by Gary D. Foster, the director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University found that children were getting 360 calories a day from chips, candy and sugary drinks — all for an average of $1.06.