Here's a scary statistic to chew on: Children in the United States, on average, get about half their daily calories from fat. That's much more than the federal recommendation for fat intake in most diets. Even that 30 percent guideline is considered too generous by some nutrition experts.
The Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a non-profit organization serving as a watchdog of the food industry, has published a new report contending that American kids are in flabby shape because their diets contain too many fatty meats and snacks, sugar-laden breakfast cereals and other processed foods. The CSPI report also cited brand names of more healthful processed items but stopped short of recommending any product in the categories of cookies, frozen dinners, granola bars, hot dogs, luncheon meats and fast-food meals -- items that pop up quite often in kids' diets.
What worries the CSPI is that children develop bad dietary habits by eating foods high in fat and sugar, which can cause tooth decay, obesity, stroke, heart disease and cancer. What angers the organization is that children are sold on these foods by TV ads whose persuasive powers could be the envy of political candidates across the nation.
Changes in the American family might also account for the poor eating habits. More and more households are headed by single parents or two working parents. With both Mom and Dad dragging home after a tough day on the job, neither parent is likely to have the time or the energy to prepare a full, balanced meal. The solution? Plug in the microwave and break out frozen dinners for everybody.
As its critics point out, the CSPI report goes overboard in some of its recommendations, such as pizzas made only with soybean- and rice-based crusts. Then again, statements from food manufacturers praising the frankfurter should be taken -- pardon the unhealthy suggestion -- with a grain of salt.
For both children and adults, diet experts routinely advise moderate eating habits that touch all the nutritional bases and still leave room for a few guilty pleasures. The CSPI is right in
urging kids to cut down on processed "junk" and instead eat more fresh fruits, vegetables and unprocessed foods. But if a child wants a hot dog or a chocolate chip cookie now and then? Not even the CSPI ought to object.