If you’ve watched even a quarter or two of a National Football League contest during the last couple seasons, you’ve probably seen an advertisement for the NFL’s “Fuel Up to Play 60” program. It’s a cleverly packaged promotion, launched in conjunction with the National Dairy Council and USDA, to encourage adolescents to become more physically active and adopt healthier dietary habits.
As its mission statement notes, “The program is designed to empower students to lead by making healthy decisions and taking action for change.”
All well and good.
Along with encouragement for elementary and high school kids to get involved in sports, outdoor activities or even just vigorous playtime—important for health and sociological reasons—the program also concentrates heavily on nutrition. In theory, that’s a nice complement to the focus on fitness, because way too many tweens and teens subsist on an utterly atrocious diet.
I see them daily in my other life as a YMCA counselor, and believe me: The older they are, and the more independence (read, spending money) they have, the worse they tend to eat. Soda, snacks and fast-food often comprise their entire day’s diet, and that ain’t good.
So I guess the argument could be made that criticizing the nutritional guidance offered by programs such as Fuel Up to Play 60 is unwarranted and unhelpful. After all, if the guidance offered by the program is even casually observed, many kids are going to end up way better nourished, if not better educated about diet and health.
But here’s the problem. The nutritional advice provided is straight out of the “enlightened” USDA playbook on dietary choices—which means it has a couple of what I consider to be fatal flaws.
One is the de-emphasis on animal foods. Yes, I know we would all do well to add more fruits and vegetables to our daily diets, but does that have to be a zero-sum game? Does the promotion of an “eat more fresh fruits and veggies” mantra have to be accompanied by “never-mention-meat” messaging?
Instead of simply calling it “Meat, Fish and Eggs,” that category (and it’s the last one mentioned, by the way) is called “Protein Foods.” Now, c’mon. What kid is ever going to ask mom or dad as they head out to the supermarket, “Hey—don’t forget my favorite protein foods!”
Is it really necessary to devalue meat and poultry by pretending that they’re just bit players in some generic “protein” category?