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Michelle Obama's breakfast dictate

Chuck, where do you land on the recent Tony the Tiger vs. federal government obesity debates? – Coo Coo for Cocoa Puffs, Caldwell, Texas

NPR reported last week that junk-food cereal mascots like Tony the Tiger (Frosted Flakes), Dig ‘Em Frog (Sugar Smacks) and Toucan Sam (Froot Loops) might be put on the endangered species list if the government has its way in controlling childhood obesity.

First, I want to commend first lady Michelle Obama in her quest to help the children of our nation eat healthier. As a fitness specialist, I’m genuinely glad that she’s got a passion to fight childhood obesity. Her fervor is a characteristic we all should desire.

At the same time, when families turn over their health habits and responsibilities to government control and regulation, I’m leery that we’re heading in the right direction.

As President Ronald Reagan once said: “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.”

I believe the sooner we quit relinquishing our health and fitness responsibilities to the government, and take control of our own lives, the better off we’ll be.

The solution to our children’s health and fitness is not government’s tyranny over Tony the Tiger, but parents helping their kids tame Tony the Tiger.

There’s no mystery that junk food (cereal and otherwise) contains an unhealthy powder keg of ingredients waiting to detonate in the human body. I don’t care to throw any particular brand or cereal under the bus, but let’s just take the above cereals for example.

The ingredients in Sugar Smacks (or the more politically correct brand version today, Honey Smacks) is, in order of content: “Sugar, wheat, corn syrup, contains 2 percent or less of honey, hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, caramel color, soy lecithin, BHT for freshness.”

Outside of the wheat, there is nothing redeemable. And when one considers that only three-fourths of a cup yields 15 grams of processed sugars and only 2 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber, you are setting your kids up for a quick sugar high, then crash and burn in the middle of their morning at school.

The ingredients in Froot Loops are slightly more usable than Honey Smacks, but nothing you’ll ever see any nutrition expert trumpeting as an all-American breakfast.

The label reads, “Sugar, whole grain corn flour, wheat flour, whole grain oat flour, oat fiber, soluble corn fiber, contains 2 percent or less of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (coconut, soybean and/or cottonseed), salt, red 40, natural flavor, blue 2, turmeric color, yellow 6, annatto color, blue 1, BHT for freshness.”

Though each of these cereals promotes roughly 25 percent of recommended daily allowance of some vitamins and minerals, the synthetic blend of other ingredients counter whatever is usable. The term “Froot” probably summarizes its nutritional redemption!

The ingredients in Frosted Flakes: “Milled corn, sugar, malt flavoring, high fructose corn syrup, salt, sodium ascorbate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), niacinamide, iron, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), vitamin A palmitate, folic acid, BHT (preservative), vitamin B12 and vitamin D.”

While it’s marginally more comforting not to see sugar as the first ingredient, the second through fourth ingredients are basically sugars veiled in other language. And while seeing more vitamin-based ingredients might appeal to marketing, a good vitamin and glass of low-fat milk alone would provide one with much more nutritional value.

Interestingly, despite the obvious negatives of even tooth decay and hyperactivity, the Kellogg’s website fights for the inclusion of its sweet-tooth cereals by pitching, “A little sugar in kids’ diets can help the nutrition go down,” and, “Sugar doesn’t cause obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease or hyperactivity.”

And yet just this past year, the Mayo Clinic and the American Heart Associated reported on studies that prove sugar raises risks of obesity and type 2 diabetes in adults and children.

A plethora of studies through the years have clearly shown that children who eat breakfast perform academically superior to those who don’t. For example, in 2006, NPR cited a study out of Tufts University in which psychologist Holly Taylor tested the mental aftermath of two groups of children – one eating sweetened oatmeal for breakfast, while the other ate Cap’n Crunch cereal.

Both groups were tested academically. But those who ate oatmeal performed 20 percent better, Taylor concluded, because oatmeal had more protein and fiber and therefore a lower glycemic index that steadied their attention spans and processing abilities (we must remember that what’s critical is not just the detrimental effects of junk-food ingredients in our kids’ bodies and bloodstreams, but the nutrients we’re forfeiting in them by not providing good breakfast alternatives.)

The fact is that a breakfast rich in protein, fiber and good carbohydrates will jumpstart and maximize your day as well as your kids’. Any combination of sweetened oatmeal, sliced banana on a piece of multi-grain toasted bread with peanut butter, a glass of low-fat milk or orange juice, one or two eggs, a small bowl of fresh fruit or other more balanced cereals is more than sufficient to satisfy taste buds and provide optimal energy and nutrition at the same time.

While we might have the liberty to live off Twinkies, freedom is not an excuse for licentiousness. There is simply no justification for filling our kids’ bellies full of highly processed junk ingredients in cereals or anything else, particularly to jumpstart their day for breakfast.

Mostly, if we can’t help our kids make right choices for breakfast, how will we ever expect them to make them on the bigger battlefields of life?