For kids’ health, Ronald McDonald and Joe Camel both deserve the boot


As part of an effort to snuff out youth smoking, selling candy-, fruit- and spice-flavored cigarettes is now illegal in the United States.

The ban went into effect earlier this month. Health officials say that flavored cigarettes make smoking more palatable to kids, and studies back them up: 17-year-olds are three times more likely to use flavored cigarettes than adults are.

This is certainly a step in the right direction. But if we’re serious about wanting to improve kids’ health, how about a ban on hot dogs and Happy Meals while we’re at it? The children who eat chicken nuggets and pepperoni pizza today will likely grow up to be the obese adults and heart patients of tomorrow.

Our addiction to meat, eggs and dairy foods is making us and our kids sick. Thirty percent of children in the United States are now overweight or obese. According to a study published last year in the journal Obesity, if current trends continue, that number will double by the year 2030.

Overweight kids tend to become overweight adults who are at greater risk for heart disease, strokes and all the other ailments that stem from extra pounds. Children as young as 3 are showing signs of clogged arteries, and pediatricians are reporting an alarming increase in the number of children with type 2 diabetes, a disease that typically affects adults.

Simply by eliminating meat from your kids’ diet, you can slash their risk of obesity and heart disease. Population studies show that meat-eaters have three times the obesity rate of vegetarians and nine times the obesity rate of vegans. Vegetarians are also 50 percent less likely to develop heart disease.

Vegetarian foods, which are packed with vitamins, phytochemicals and fiber, can also help your kids ward off cancer as they grow older. Researchers have found that vegetarians are 25 percent to 50 percent less likely to suffer from cancer than meat-eaters are.
In fact, the American Dietetic Association has determined that vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of life and that vegetarians are less prone to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity than are meat-eaters.

Cut out meat, and you’ll also cut out a heaping dose of cruelty at every meal. Kids have a natural affinity for animals, and they’d be horrified if they knew what happens to animals before they reach our dinner tables.

The chickens killed for McDonald’s McNuggets, for example, are dumped out of their transport crates at slaughterhouses and slammed upside down into metal shackles often resulting in broken bones, extreme bruising and hemorrhaging. The birds have their throats cut while they are still conscious, and many are immersed in tanks of scalding-hot water while they are still alive and able to feel pain.

Undercover investigators from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have documented factory-farm workers beating and kicking pigs and slamming piglets onto the ground. Fish which scientists now know can feel pain, as all animals do bleed or suffocate to death on the decks of ships, gasping for oxygen. They can be left to suffer for as long as 24 hours.

If we don’t want our kids to know about the horrible abuses endured by animals in the meat industry, then the decent thing to do is to stop feeding them meat in the first place. Our kids would be better off if we did.

Lawmakers aren’t likely to ban burgers and fish sticks any time soon, so it’s up to us as parents to help our children make smart food choices. Encouraging kids to eat nutritious vegetarian foods will give them the fuel they need to be healthy and active now and help protect them from a host of painful and debilitating ailments as they grow older. If a simple lifestyle change can help our children be happy and healthy, don’t we owe it to them to give it a try?

Chris Holbein is the project manager of PETA’s Special Projects Division.