I’m thrilled to report that my first column of 2017 has struck a chord.
If you missed the piece, which appeared in Issue 1 of our e-newsletter, Sweet & Healthy, it dealt with a mother’s proposal to create candy- and tabloid-free checkout aisles for parents who are shopping with their children. First reported in the Lansing State Journal and later picked up by Good Morning America, Jane Kramer, who’s from Michigan and shops at Meijer, is petitioning the grocery chain to remove such temptations and thus, eliminate the practice of constantly saying “no” to kids who are tugging on their parents’ sleeves.
On my part, I took the view that this was a ”teachable moment” for parents to just say no, ending with a quote from Tom Thibodeau, our former Chicago Bulls coach who famously once said to his players, “Do. Your. Job.”
That sparked a rebuttal to my column from Kramer and others. Stating that I “oversimplified” the issue, she pointed out that the obesity rate for children stands at 17 percent. Moreover, the health costs associated with obesity, according to Kramer’s estimation, “are as much as the healthcare costs of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs combined.”
She asserts that “we need to figure out ways to make healthy choices an easier part of our daily lives. Replacing junk food with healthy food at checkout is a place to start. The reality is the majority of people want to eat healthier food – especially millennials who will be driving the food market even more in the coming years. However, it’s easier said than done, especially when faced with sugary, fatty foods in checkout. ‘Just saying no’ isn’t working as research shows these are additional purchases/impulse buys, not planned purchases.”
Kramer then points out that retailers have a responsibility to the community and that parents have had more than enough “teachable moments” in saying no to junk food and junk tabloids. She cites Aldi as an example of one chain that’s taking the lead on this.
Oh, yes, she does throw in a comment saying studies suggest sugar is as addictive as heroin and cocaine.
Please, Jane, let’s not get fanatical here. Sugar’s a natural, wholesome ingredient. There are people who have a sweet tooth, but I wouldn’t equate that predilection with a drug habit. And as far as obesity is concerned; it is a problem, no doubt.
But dare say I that inactivity is the greater contributor to child obesity rather than confectionery checkout sales? Guess I just did. And speaking of oversimplification, I believe demonizing sugar as the root of all evil falls into that category.
As far as making it easier for parents, I embrace that concept -- to a point. Parenting today is harder than it ever has been. It’s the world in which we live. I’m just not sure that candy- and tabloid-free checkout aisles are the answer. Will a checkout aisle with carrot and celery sticks convince parents and children to eat healthier? Will award-winning children’s literature make them read more? Both of those practices start at home, not at the checkout aisle.
With regards to tabloids, I have a feeling that kids today get more sensational news on the Internet than they do from the magazine rack.
What I propose, and have over the last 16 years of being the editor for Candy Industry, is a nutritional and culinary education program for kindergartners through high school. I don’t believe our children are exposed enough to the wonders of food, including confections. Cooking from scratch is a great way to learn about food and nutrition.
Remember when butter was bad and low and no-fat foods were in? Nutritional science is still in its infancy, and we are continuously seeing new studies replace strongly held beliefs of what constitutes a good diet. In some cases, there's simply not enough research, as the Atlantic reported.
But let me reminiscence a little. When I was a youngster, I used to pick up discarded pop bottles in the neighborhood and bring them in for a 2-cent deposit to my local candy store. With that money I’d buy either candy or comic books, sometimes both. Perhaps having children earn their candy money can be one way of instilling a “teachable moment?”
Or, as Joe Sofia points out in his commentary on my first column, steer kids to a self-checkout aisle to avoid any kind of temptation. Besides, they can handle that process better than the parents.
Kramer also comments about retailers’ quest for profit over community needs. I believe one can be a good corporate citizen as well as a profitable business. Do well by doing well. Again, does it mean removing candy from the checkout aisle?
I’m not convinced. Candy- and tabloid-free checkout aisles can’t replace the role of parenting, which is ongoing, even at my age.
Moreover, I like that convenience of picking up a confection, be it gum, mint or a candy bar, at the checkout aisle. And I’m a fan of impulse sales. That’s part of the fun of shopping.
I’m also a responsible shopper. It was a learning process, a skill I recommend passing onto children.