Bernie Pacyniak

Believe it or not, I was a skinny kid growing up. Excluding baby pictures, I was a swift and slender lad. Okay, hard to believe now, but it’s true. Raised in a Polish household that was heavily influenced by French cooking - my parents elected to stay in France after World War II before emigrating to the States - I enjoyed a mix of European home cooking.  

But there were plenty of children on my block who ate typically American meals, and they were skinny, too. As for sweets, well, I lived only a bagged candy’s throw from a small candy store.

Back then, I could round up some empty pop bottles and bring them back to the shop for a 2¢ return on deposit, which would allow me to purchase some penny candy and recycled comic books.

What better combination than licorice and Marvel superheroes? 

I also recall going to school and having recess twice a day. All we would do during those 15-minute breaks is run ourselves ragged playing tag. Those were the days.

But let’s fast-forward a few years. I have two children; they’re 31 and 28 now. Neither of them are obese, although they are sensitive about weight gain. When they were growing up, neither had weight issues, either. Thankfully, the grammar school they went to had recess. Moreover, I enrolled them in our local park’s soccer league, eventually becoming their coach, which meant they couldn’t dog it on the field. 

So when I heard that First Lady Michelle Obama had launched a “Let’s Move” campaign to combat obesity - according to recent stats, nearly one in three children in America is overweight or obese - I was pleased to see that the nation’s First Soccer Mom was addressing the issue.

It’s a pretty comprehensive program, focusing on nutrition, education, physical activity and the like. Visit for all the details.

Funding issues aside, I like the multipronged approach. My only concern is that it remains a multipronged approach, one that combines nutritional education with physical activity, and not an attack vehicle against the confectionery industry.

Let’s face it, the candy guys and gals are an easy target for politicians. Just take a look at the recent surge in state legislatures taxing candy as a means to make up growing revenue deficits.

Kids aren’t getting obese because they’re stuffing their faces with candy every single minute. As the industry has long pointed, confections account for only 2% of average caloric intake.

Moreover, many confections, taken in moderation, actually are good for you. Chocolate, gum, certain hard candies and snack bars come to mind. 

So are there children eating poorly? Yes. Do many kids have a tendency to over-snack? Yes. Have video games, the Internet and a celebrity-gawk culture made kids less active? Yes. Can sweets be part of a complete nutritional diet? Yes, and yes again. 

Just consider this stat: According to the Department of Health and Human Services, only 3.8% of elementary schools, 7.9% of middle schools and 2.1% of high schools provide daily physical education for the entire school year.

Surprising, isn’t it? Maybe not when you contrast it with the obesity stat. 

I’ve always touted a comprehensive nutritional education program for the nation. And I’m often reminded of my link to French cuisine when I visit my parents on weekends. Food is serious business for the French, but even more so for children growing up there. A recent article in Time magazine (March 15, 2010) by Vivienne Walt revealed how important French schools take teaching nutritional education. Give it a read. You’ll be surprised.

So Michelle, I’m with you on this; just make sure candymakers and chocolatiers aren’t depicted as fall guys.