North East Community Center
Nutritious meals available to local children in summer
Reprinted with permission from The Millerton News, copyright The Lakeville Journal Company, LLC, 2012.

Food-related ads make up 22 percent of all television advertising viewed by young children, according to a report published by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

This advertising, which typically appears during children’s programming, often features foods and drinks high in sugar, fat and calories. In an article that appeared on the Mayo Clinic website, Katherine Zeratsky described her son’s encounter with a commercial for a sugary drink. He was mesmerized, she said, by images of children “frolicking around as they [drank],” and begged his mother to buy the drink from the grocery store.

In 2006, the food industry spent $1.6 billion on children’s marketing. According to a 2011 FTC report, foods and drinks are being promoted at children’s movies, sports and music events “and even in schools.”

New advertising media, especially social media, have created more opportunities for companies to sell their products.

As advertising appears in more and more areas, parents are becoming increasingly concerned. Obesity recently overtook drug use as “parents’ number one health concern,” according to the FTC report. To many parents, it seems as if food companies are only contributing to the problem.

In response to growing rates of childhood obesity and diabetes, Congress has asked the FTC, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Food and Drug Administration to develop principles that can “guide industry efforts” to market more nutritious foods to children.

By 2016, food products marketed to children should contain no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 13 grams of added sugar and zero grams of transfat and should contain ingredients from nutritious food groups, such as whole grains and dairy.

Although this legislation will help to limit children’s exposure to unhealthy food and drink, it does not address immediate concerns held by many parents. And it won’t necessarily help families that are not always able to afford fresh, wholesome foods.

In the Tri-state region, the North East Community Center (NECC) in Millerton is trying to make a more immediate impact by providing lunches for children and teenagers at the Amenia Town Hall and Millerton’s public swimming pool. Each lunch consists of a sandwich or salad, and a fruit or vegetable.

The NECC has partnered with local farmers to produce the lunches, which are available for free. The program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the New York State Department of Education, was created to offer lower income families an affordable and nutritious meal — the kind that students can get at school during the academic year but which they can’t get during the summer vacation.

Local and federal organizations will have to supplement each other’s efforts to prepare and distribute nutritious meals to children. Teaching positive eating and exercise habits to children will require extensive outreach programs. It is by no means an easy challenge, but to many parents, it is a necessary one.