Op-Ed: Children and Sugar, Can Camp Canteens Help?

by Shmarya Richler – Montreal

In my previous articles I talked about healthy eating and exercise. My primary focus was adults. But today I want to talk about our children. The childhood incidence of obesity and type 2 diabetes is on the rise. In most cases this is a direct result of eating the wrong foods and overeating. The easy availability of junk food, sugar sodas, and prepared foods is widespread. Adults are not the only ones who should cut down on their vitamin K (kugel, knishes, karnatzel, kidush club, kishkeh, etc). Children are bound by the same 75% rule as adults. That is, one only needs 75% of what is eaten as the Rambam rules. And children need to exercise. I see so many children using electric scooters these days, most without helmets. 

Recently I was in a grocery store here in Montreal. I was walking through the junk aisle. What was Shmarya doing on the junk aisle? Didn’t he read the articles he wrote? Well, grocery stores lay out their products in a very clever way. There is a reason the sale items and staples like milk and eggs are at the back of the store. They want you to walk through the aisles. And the junk aisles are right there in the middle. And that’s why the impulse items are near the cash.  What’s wrong with a quick chocolate bar while I’m waiting in line?

I saw a father with his two children. They looked to be about 8 or 9. Let’s just say that they looked very well nourished. They were shovelling junk into the cart at a very fast rate. At the checkout counter I saw their full cart and noticed that most of what was there could not be classified as food. 

Last summer I went to visit my grandson in camp. I saw something that probably replayed itself in many other camps. The “canteen scene”. I’m not talking about the hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, knishes etc. There was enough of that consumed on visiting day to feed an army. I’m talking about sports drinks. It looked like they were outselling the regular sugar/frictose sodas and drinks. Sports drinks manufacturers do a great marketing job. They convince you of two things. One, that somehow because athletes drink them, they are healthy, and two, that if you drink them, you are an athlete. Did you know that a 20-ounce bottle of a very popular sports drink contains 34 grams of sugar. And that a 12 ounce can of cola contains 39 grams of sugar. Yes, the sports drink contains less sugar. Granted. But the daily recommended maximum for sugar intake are 36 grams for men and 25 grams for women. For children it is 25 grams. So, two sports drinks alone have more than twice the sugar than the daily recommendation for children. And that’s not counting all the other sources of sugar that are consumed during the day. Then there are the sports drinks with zero sugar. Instead, they use sucralose. Don’t even get me started on that chemical.

I did an informal survey in 6 running groups I belong to. I also polled some elite runners.  98% do not use sports drinks when running. Too much sugar is the main reason. It gives you an immediate high followed by an immediate low and it negatively impacts performance. The sports drink manufacturers tell you that their drink is for athletes, yet most athletes don’t use them,

You may be thinking that the children are very active in camp, and they need the sports drink to replace the carbs and electrolytes that they are losing. They don’t. They are getting all they need in their regular meals. I am a distance runner. I run marathons. Running a marathon, I expend more energy than what your children will expend in three days at camp. To keep hydrated I take water and electrolytes capsules.  I don’t need the sugar drink. Your child does not need it either! And based on my research most distance runners do the same as me.

I’ve only touched on sugar intake. What about salt? The recommended amount of sodium per day is 2300 milligrams. Did you know that one popular instant soup has 1220 milligrams of sodium?

So, what can we do to stem this seemingly unstoppable tide? Adults need to start leading a healthier lifestyle. This means eating better and exercising. This would show a living example to our children. And start reading labels. I suggested cutting down on sugar sodas. Here’s an alternative. Buy seltzer and add a bit of fruit juice to it. Voila, a tasty drink. You send snacks to school. I know of a Beis Rivkah teacher here in Montreal who instituted a rule that of the 2 snacks sent to school one of them must be healthy. Maybe the schools should establish a rule like this. It’s very hard for a child to come to school with healthy snacks when all their friends are not doing the same. Peer pressure is very hard to resist. If the school had a rule, it would be much easier. The schools have managed to become peanut free, why can’t they do something about unhealthy snacks?

Camp season is around the corner. It would be a good idea for camps to mandate that the canteen does not sell sugar sodas or sports drinks. There are plenty of flavored seltzers around that have no sugar in them. And why not sell good old-fashioned water?  It may be difficult for the campers at the beginning, but I firmly believe that after a week they will be happy with the change.  Camps will be doing a huge favor to the campers and to their parents.

And lastly get out there and do some exercise. Walk, bike, run, swim, whatever gets your heart pumping.

Have a healthy and happy summer!

If you have any questions or comments, you can e-mail me at health@richler.org 


  • Esther Michael

    I would agree that camp canteens should sell stuff that is healthier than soda,candy and so forth. You can have the options of selling pieces cut up Watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes, and blueberries.

    • Basya

      Just wondering how many kids would actually buy cut up fruit especially since that is food they are probably given for free
      If canteen is a business to make money they are going to sell what their clients want
      I personally make my kids use their own money for canteen so usually they think before they buy

  • Yossi

    I remember as a camper (around 20 years ago) we were only allowed to order one or two things from canteen per day. There was no “purchasing” at the window for campers.

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