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Let's stop using candy as rewards, fund-raisers

I have a terrible sweet tooth. It seems impossible to extract. Because of it, I've been overweight since the age of 10. Now, at 45, I'm borderline diabetic.

Since I am in this respect a typical American, I don't need to tell you about the physical and emotional consequences. You've probably been there, done that; if not, you've borne witness to the effects of sugar in the lives of loved ones. All I can say is that my sweet tooth is one legacy I most definitely do not want to pass on to my son.

My son attended preschool at the University of Vermont where the caregivers, experts in early childhood development, recognized that sugar is detrimental to children's physical and mental development. Instead of "rewarding" children for desired behavior by offering them sweets, they testified to the depth of their concern for children's well-being by banning candy and soda from the premises. This policy paid off in spades. The children flourished.

When my husband and I moved to Western New York three years ago, we bought a house in Clarence because of the stellar reputation of Clarence's school system. The reputation has proven well-deserved; our son has had wonderful teachers and a supportive educational environment. Yet the school system undermines its own principles -- the food pyramid and healthy eating habits that teachers painstakingly teach -- by using candy as a ubiquitous reward and treat.

Every holiday, every time he achieves something noteworthy, my son is presented with candy. He doesn't even like it -- we throw most of it away -- but he is learning to view sugar as a reward for good behavior and a sign of affection.

In fact, sugar is a toxin. It is no exaggeration to say that it is one of the worst banes in human history. One reason for the unconscionable witch hunts in Europe is that the church invested heavily in sugar plantations, and many women who were traditional healers and caretakers opposed the spread of sugar.

Consumer desire for sugar was one of the engines that drove the slave trade, exacting a catastrophic toll on human life while generating huge profits for the ruling class. Formerly regarded as a luxury, sugar consumption increased 20 times in the 16th and 17th centuries and has continued to rise ever since.

Currently the United States is in the throes of exorbitant epidemics of obesity and diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if we stay on our current course, one-third of our 5-year-olds will get diabetes in their lifetimes. In the past two decades, type 2 diabetes among children has increased tenfold. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in this country, and obesity is linked to 112,000 deaths per year.

When I was in China last May, I noticed how fit most Chinese people looked and how flawless their skin was -- except in big cities like Shanghai, where American fast-food chains have produced outbreaks of obesity and acne, and diabetes is on the rise.

Is this really a legacy we want to export? Is it a legacy we want to pass on to our own children?

If we truly care about the well-being of the next generation, if we are capable of being principled and honest, we must stop promoting sugar consumption. I support most school fund-raisers, but when my son brought home a catalog encouraging him to sell "spring chocolates," I threw it in the trash. Candy should not be promoted in schools; it should be banned.

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