Fruit Juice is a Target in the War Against Obesity
Some Minnesota doctors are recommending that fruit
juice be eliminated from the WIC program, because it
may be making kids fat.
update: August 18, 2006 – 1:02 AM
Minnesota Medical Association has opened a new front on
the war on obesity.
target: fruit juice.
The association, which represents 10,000 doctors, said
that apple juice and orange juice and the like are to
blame, in part, for the fattening of America's
And this week, it asked the federal government to drop
all fruit juices from a subsidized food program for 8
million low-income women and children, including
130,000 in Minnesota.
"There's no real value of juice in a child's diet,"
said Dr. Sarah Jane Schwarzenberg, an obesity
researcher and pediatrician at the University of
Minnesota who is leading the charge to reform the WIC
(Women, Infants & Children) program.
Contrary to popular belief, she said, even 100 percent
fruit juice is not the moral equivalent of fresh fruit.
"Fruit juice has the same number of calories per ounce
as pop, sometimes a little bit more," she said.
And while she said she doesn't believe juice deserves
all the blame, she said the calories can really pile on
when kids swig juice boxes at lunch, snack and dinner.
"Juice should be considered as a treat," she said, "the
same way you might consider a candy bar."
adds fruits, vegetables
Until now, WIC has supplied participants with fruit
juices, but not fruits or most vegetables.
But last week, it proposed a major overhaul, including
a reduction in the amount of juice supplied to children
and the addition of fruits and vegetables to the WIC
On Monday, the Minnesota Medical Association applauded
the proposal but said it didn't go far enough.
"MMA physicians believe that the consumption of fruit
juice contributes to obesity in children," Dr. David
Luehr, the association's president, wrote in a letter
to WIC's director. He urged the agency "to go even
further and entirely eliminate juice from the list of
Susan Acker, a spokeswoman for the WIC program, which
is based in Alexandria, Va., said only that "we welcome
input and comment" and that the agency was "looking
forward to hearing from all interested parties."
Some, though, say the demonization of fruit juice is
"I would contend that juice, 100 percent juice, is
healthy in proper moderation," said Marty Ordman, vice
president of marketing and communications for the Dole
Food Co., which sells fruit juice. "I just find it hard
to believe that somebody would compare drinking 6
ounces of juice to drinking a 12-ounce can of
sugar-loaded soda pop."
Schwarzenberg, who serves on the Minnesota Medical
Association's obesity task force, said that even "100
percent fruit juice" can be hyper-caloric. With orange
and apple juice, she said, manufacturers often mix in
extra-sweet pear or grape juice to counter the natural
tartness and appeal to children. "We get a lot of
concentrated sugar calories that can contribute not
only to obesity but also to cavities," she said.
A small amount, she admits, "is not going to throw them
into obesity." However, she said, "many kids are
drinking it through the day." Add in other nutritional
lapses, like fast food, and "you get obesity," she
said. "The only way that we can handle this is to start
going after them one at a time."
Jean Kinsey, a University of Minnesota economist who
served on a national advisory panel for the WIC
program, was cool to the doctors' proposal.
"I would say it's probably not a good idea to cut off
all juice," said Kinsey, co-director of the Food
Industry Center, part of the College of Agriculture. "I
mean, children do need fluids, too, and it's probably
more nutritious than just drinking water."
Kinsey served on a panel of experts at the Institute of
Medicine, based in Washington, D.C., which recommended
in 2005 most of the changes that WIC is now adopting.
But overly strict limits can backfire, she suggested.
"I would rather have a child develop a taste for fruit
juice than for soda pop as an alternative."
Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384
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