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Mom Talk: Why Parents Aren't To Blame for Our Kids' Obesity

When heading to the grocery store or restaurant, parents need to be super sleuths to protect our kids.

The more I started paying attention to this issue, the more appalled I became. I find myself outraged into having discussions with strangers in stores.

A couple weeks ago, I railed against parents who knowingly allow their kids to get super fat without a genuine medical issue. What I am talking about today are all the things that cause obesity that aren't the parents' faults.

Let's start with sodium. According to the Mayo Clinic, too much salt can lead to serious health problems. The 2010 daily guideline is less than a teaspoon per day. That's about 2,300 milligrams. It's half that if your over age 51, a max of 1,500 milligrams daily.

"The average American gets about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day – much more than recommended," says the MayoClinic.com.

Recently, I discovered some alarming sodium amounts in foods I usually buy. For example, I like to snag up the values at Sam's Club. One of them used to be flour tortillas. They have a huge display of Mission brand in all kids of colors and flavors.

When looking at the label, however, I realized that some kinds have a whopping 590 milligrams of sodium each. Four taco-sized tortillas max out the entire daily sodium intake. 

Comparably, a one ounce individual bag of Lay's Classic potato chips in my cupboard has only 170 milligrams. Whereas a can of regular soup has 900 to 1,000 milligrams per can! 

Unless we really hunt for low-sodium items, and read labels carefully, we are in trouble before we even sit down to the table.

Here's another thing to consider. If you are going out to a restaurant, the best way to save money is to check out their nutritional information online before you leave. My bet is that you'll freak at the calories and fat and sodium in these foods and stay home.

Recently a wise teenage friend of mine turned me onto a book called Eat This Not That, by David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding. In the 2011 edition, it lists the 20 worst foods in America. 

The worst kids meal, according to the book is from the California Pizza Kitchen. It says the kids portion of curly mac 'n' cheese has the nutritional equivalent of 8.5 large orders of Burger King onion rings. 

According to the California Pizza Kitchen web site, the meal has 1,041 calories, 33 grams of fat, 735 milligrams of sodium. Also, their fusilli pasta alfredo has  929  calories, 27 grams of fat, and 559 milligrams of sodium. 

California Pizza Kitchens are in Chicagoland, but not in Shorewood. Closer to home, another popular family restuaruant is Applebee's. Their kids grilled cheese has 620 calories, 35 grams of fat, and 1,440 sodium. It should be illegal to serve that to kids.

Q: Is anybody else surprised by these numbers?

Notice, these are not the fast food joints I'm writing about. (Although you can link to their nutritional information here for McDonalds, Burger King, and Pizza Hut.)

These are supposed to be casual family restaurants. Some of these places have nutritional information online. Al's Beef here in Shorewood, for example, does not. 

We, as parents, should not need to be Sherlock Holmes in order to feed our children healthy foods. 

A third consideration is sugar. I have a sweet tooth just like anyone else. However, even the non-sugary foods have sugar added. 

One of the most eye-opening facts I learned about America's addiction to sugar came from bread. While living overseas, my family made the daily trek to the bakery to buy fresh-baked bread. It has a different taste. When they came here, they complained, "Your bread is so sweet!"

Ah. That was the difference. The average loaf of bread here has sugar in it. It's not enough to jump up and down about. In my opinion, the bigger problem is that even with something savory, we are training our tastebuds to demand sweets.

How can we get the sugar monkey off our backs if even the most basic food items are laced with it? The vitamin D milk in my fridge right now has 11 grams of sugar. The whole wheat bread has 3 grams per slice. 

Americans have an insatiable sweet tooth. It's like crack. The more the processed food supplies it, the more we demand it. The more we demand it, producers ratchet up the quantities and give us what we want.

Some other things causing obesity that parents cannot control have nothing to do with food. The other side of the obesity equation is the lack of exercise. In this big, beautiful expansive country, Americans have spread out – and not just in our britches. 

Larger cities grew upward, like Chicago's skyscrapers. In suburbs like Shorewood, neighborhoods and businesses are low and wide. We need to drive everywhere to get anywhere.

The basic daily exercise of walking to work or the store doesn't happen like it used to. That's another reason why Europeans are so much thinner than we are, because they have to walk everywhere. 

When we factor in modern conveniences like computers and video games, and the average American doesn't stand a chance. We have to really work at staying healthy. 

Q: Other than growing and cooking all our own foods, how can we protect our kids from the hidden ingredients that hurt us?

Tina Tuszynski April 06, 2011 at 05:55 PM
Also, remember when reading labels, added sugar - which is the bad sugar- is reported in the same area as naturally occurring sugar. So while the sugar in white milk is naturally occuring and okay in moderation, the added sugar in fruit-laden yogurts are not good for you. Unfortunately, our current food labeling system makes us have to work harder to determine what's good and bad. As a general rule, processed foods - packaged cereals, yogurts, frozen foods, sauces, etc. - will all have added sugar - whereas fresh foods like milk, eggs, fruits and veggies, and meats, fish, and poultry will only contain natural sugars, if at all. But one should still limit the amount of natural sugars - meaning don't eat 10 pieces of fruit each day! Added sugars should be limited as much as possible, except for occasional treats.
Flora Dora April 07, 2011 at 12:02 PM
Of course it is the parent's job to keep their children fit and healthy! Do our families eat sugary desserts, chips, tortillas, salted nuts, etc.? Must every meal end with sweets? Is soda part of every day meals and snacks? Moderation is the key to almost every aspect of our lives. But you can also check to see what is in pre-packaged or prepared foods. Sugar in jams, ketchup , drinks etc. is better than high fructose corn syrup. Pure juice is better than juice "drinks". So keep on looking, Erin, and keep that little guy of yours slim!
charlies angel April 07, 2011 at 01:07 PM
I was hospitalized with pancreatitis last yr due to a gallstone blocking my duct. Surgery was recommended because I do have more stones, I have opted to watch my diet. In doing so I stick to a low/ no fat diet. Actually taking the time to read a label has changed my life & for my family as well. Not realizing how much fat is our products is amazing. I guess my thinking of eating out is more convenient is actually unhealthy. I also cook with olive oil & have chosen healtheir alternatives. I have lost 25 lbs just from this change. The funny thing is i eat alot of carbs & still have lost the weight. We eat baked potato chips, less butter products, low to no fat dairy products, baked or grilled meals, alot of chicken & turkey, less red meat. My health issue resulted in a wake up call for my family. My advice: take time to read labels, yes it's a hassle at first but becomes second nature.
Erin Gallagher April 07, 2011 at 04:10 PM
You're absolutely right, Nancy. Once you start, it's not tough. You get used to wheat bread, not white. And grocery shopping is the same amount of time. What's more, advertising on the front of the package is often misleading. Terms like "all natural" or "low/lower/reduced" fat or sodium don't mean diddly.
Neal Paskvan May 26, 2011 at 06:11 AM
Wonderful to see all the coments here... Keep em comming... Just a thought... lets help each other be soultion minded....

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