Adults are fueling teen junk food madness

In Israel and America adults are feeding teens nutritionally empty foods and sugary drinks. Most “foods” have ingredients that sound like my high school chemistry lab experiments.

Most of my Israeli and American friends have uncontrollable cravings for sweets. During my three trips to Israel, my Israeli friends gorge on donuts, cakes, Krembos and other addictive and unhealthy foods.  (No, pita filled with French fries, mayonnaise and ketchup aren’t part of the vegetable-fruit-fish healthy Mediterranean diet. Neither are Krembos (cookies with marshmallow smothered in chocolate) and Shoko b’sakit (chocolate milk in a bag).

Both Israeli and American supermarkets are filled with sugary drinks, chemically-colored candies and frozen pizzas with fake cheese. In US grocery stores, almost 80% of foods– from sugary breakfast cereals to pasta sauce to ketchup to energy drinks – are spiked with added sugar.  The average American teen eats more than five times the recommended allowance of sugar each day – an amazing 34 teaspoons!   A big reason more than 1/5 American teens are obese? Sugar.  Sugar is more addictive than cocaine.

My Israeli friends crave McDonalds (kosher beef patties), Dunkin’ Donuts, KFC and Coca-Cola.  American industrial food and drink giants are fueling an Israeli – and an international teen obesity problem. Israeli teen obesity rates are “nearing those in the US,” according to researchers at Emek Medical Center in Afula and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.  In Afula, more than 70 percent of stores serve nutrition-poor food.  More than half of all Israelis are overweight or obese. Ironically, both Israel and here in California vegetables and fruits are big exports.

At the American Jewish sports camp I attended, we ate cheap greasy pizza, Coca-Cola, and almost no vegetables or fruit. Most nights, our coaches drove us to Dunkin’ Donuts or 7 Eleven.  When I pointed out that donuts and Slurpies are filled with dangerous sugar, they ignored me.

About 26 million Americans have diabetes. Until recently, very few teens were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. But today, American teens make up one third of all new diabetes cases. Israeli teens also have an enormous diabetes problem. It’s a giant global crisis.

Our biggest problem? Adults.  Visit any school cafeteria or youth group – few adults realize the “healthy” foods like “health” bars, fruit yogurt and orange juice they’re serving are loaded with sugar.

That’s why I started Teens4Health.org.  We’re sleep-deprived teens trying to educate ourselves and convince our parents, teachers, school cafeteria managers, rabbis, imams and priests to stop harming us with unhealthy processed foods and addictive sugary sodas.

We’re teens trying to educate other teens about what junk foods are doing to our bodies and brains.   We’re trying to teach teens about Real Food. What’s Real Food? It’s what my great-great grandparents ate (they both lived until over 100).  There were no vending machines or grab-and-go processed foods or IPhones (electronic “heroin.”)  Real Foods don’t need “Nutrition Facts” labels (which usually mean little nutrition and fake facts). Real Foods don’t use sneaky names for sugar – like corn syrup or beet syrup or molasses.  Real Foods also means Real Drinks:  healthy, free tap water.

To understand why junk food is so profitable and addicting, we teens need to learn to follow the money. That’s partly why I started a twin organization, Teens4Biz.org.  Teens learn how  global  industrial “food” companies are fueling the obesity and diabetes epidemics by adding salt, sugar and unhealthy fats and other harmful (usually artificial) ingredients to their “foods.”

We’re discovering how processed foods are magically (chemically) designed to last for months and how multi-billion dollar food, beverage, and restaurant businesses use clever ads and marketing to convince us to crave unhealthy foods and sugary drinks.  For example, we’re learning to recognize deceptive food labels, misleading menus, and manipulative marketing messages. On visits to places like supermarkets, we learn how to identify deceptively sugary foods and how companies pay for product placement.

We’re the digital generation – with a flick of a finger, we can share more texts, photos and videos than adults. (We spend more time on our devices than sleeping). Teens4Health.org and Teens4Biz.org are “Bottom-Up,” not “Top-Down” organizations (I learned this approach from my mentor Dr. Robert Lustig, University of California, San Francisco pediatric endocrinologist and founder of the Institute for Responsible Nutrition).

To end junk food madness, we’re trying to do our part. Wake up adults:  the processed foods and sugary drinks you’re feeding us are fueling the growing global epidemics of teen diabetes and obesity.

Elias Rosenthal is a high school junior in Santa Rosa, California.  He runs www.Teens4Health.org and www.Teens4Biz.orgelieilatcandyphoto2

About the Author
Elias Rosenthal is a high school student in Santa Rosa, California and visited Israel three times. He started Teens4Health.org and Teens4Biz.org.
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