Catalyst Fall 2014

[FINAL ANALYSIS]

When Every Day Is Halloween

 by Karen Perry Stillerman

Halloween Sugar Infographic

It’s nearly time for the scariest day of the year: Halloween, when children transform into ghouls and goblins, then gorge on candy. But what is really scary is that every day has become Halloween for our kids.

Federal data show that America’s children are consuming way too much sugar. The amount varies by age, gender, race, and household income, but on average, young people between the ages of 2 and 19 consume 124 grams of sugar, or 29 teaspoons, every day. Teenage boys in particular consume a whopping 161 grams—more than three-quarters of a cup—daily. That’s nearly equivalent to 18 “fun size” Snickers bars or peanut M&M packs!

When Halloween is every day, children’s future health suffers. Sugary processed foods and drinks crowd out healthier choices such as fruits and vegetables. Studies show that early dietary patterns can persist into adulthood, so with excess sugar consumption linked to weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes in adults, changing how children eat today is critical for their future well-being.

It’s Not Kids’ Fault

 The government recommends that all Americans cut back on sugar and fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal. Yet food and farm policies have long undermined these recommendations by funneling taxpayer dollars into farm subsidies that make meat and junk food cheap while polluting our air and water, and by underwriting school lunches that rely on processed foods. Even though Congress acted in 2010 to improve school nutrition standards, industry lobbyists are looking to roll back that progress.

Congress will reauthorize child nutrition programs in 2015, and UCS will push back against misguided subsidies that benefit junk food companies while harming children. You can help us defend—and even improve—the standards for school lunches; go to www.ucsusa.org/halloweeneveryday to see how.

Karen Perry Stillerman is senior analyst and deputy director of the UCS Food and Environment Program. Read more from Karen in our blog, The Equation.