Dear Girl Scouts: It’s time to cut out the cookies

It happened while I was leaving a grocery store in the southeastern United States. The young girl who asked me if I wanted to buy Girl Scout cookies was strikingly perfect. She was thin, happy, and well spoken. So were her colleagues. The moms, too, were of healthy weight and cheer. It was as if they were English-speaking transplants from the Netherlands. They did not appear to be regular consumers of their own product.

And this is a problem, isn’t it? Here is the Twitter bio of the Girl Scouts of America:

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Ultimately the Girl Scouts aim to make the world a better place. Good. We need more groups like this.

The problem is that selling high-fat sugar-laden cookies to an increasing calorie-addicted populace is no longer congruent with that goal. Things change. American society, especially, and most tragically, the children, suffer from an epidemic of calorie excess and movement deficiency. It’s not hyperbole to say this is a public health disaster.

I’m a heart doctor. More than two-thirds of my patients have problems acquired from eating too much and moving too little. High-calorie inflammation-inducing foods only exacerbate these problems. Though vaccines and infectious disease get much attention, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, bone and joint disorders and other diseases of excess pose far greater threats to public health.

And for those who have traveled to other parts of the world, our nation’s obesity epidemic is sort of an embarrassment.

The question I would ask the Girl Scouts of America is this:

In our current society, not the one of 50 years ago, the one now, what sort of character is it building in young women to sell cookies to calorie-addicted inflammation-overwhelmed Americans?

It’s simply not right. For the same reason hospitals and schools have removed junk food from their cafeterias, I call on the Girl Scouts to find another way to raise funds. I encourage other health leaders to do the same.

Making the world a better place must surely involve teaching young girls something other than profiteering at the expense of public health. Plus this: Is the act of selling cookies into this society sporting? My grandfather might have likened it to trout fishing in a hatchery.

I know what you may be thinking, and it’s stuff you may have read here before. Cookies aren’t the problem, eating the whole box is. This is true. Health is indeed a personal responsibility. I’m not for banning fast-food eateries.

The difference is that for-profit purveyors of inflammatory foods are transparent. Their goals are not to build character of young people, improve public health or serve the greater good. They are to make money. That’s different from the Girl Scouts.

Public health is no joke. Making the world a better place means teaching young people to be mindful of how money is made.

JMM

Comments

  1. Rick Koch MD FACC says

    DR John – thank you! I too whole heartedly (pun intended) share your opinion. Being the 21st century I took this matter to the people via social media. I also sent a professionally worded email to the Girl Scouts imploring them to make better & healthier cookies…times & obesity rates @they are a changing”. No response from the Girl Scouts after 3 weeks! I guess they must be busy “pushing” their product….

  2. S F says

    I totally agree with your comments about the American addiction to inflammatory foods and the lack of movement. It is an embarrassment to see our culture blimp-out. It has become an accepted norm. Schools have not eliminated junk food; it is still available. Schools allow children to throw away their uneaten apples and oranges they are required to take in the food line and then there are snacks for sale at the end of the line to buy for extras. The kids grab the sugar laden cereal bar and cinnamon sugar goldfish crackers they bought when it is time to clean up and dump the untouched fresh fruit and unopened milk in the trash can. Thousands of pounds of good stuff wasted everyday. Don’t blame the Girl Scouts until someone can help them with a better product to sell to raise funds. How ’bout taking the money spent on college/national football and basketball and spending it on healthy nutrition/fitness classes for elementary schools?

    • Dr John says

      Thanks SF. I tried to be careful about seeming to blame the Girl Scouts. I don’t want that. My aim is to encourage them to see a new leadership opportunity for young women. One in which their fund-raising could more directly contribute to, rather than, detract from public health.

  3. Jeff says

    I am a bit torn by your piece. On the one hand, I lack the self control to eat sugar in moderation so I just no longer eat it, and don’t myself buy girl scout cookies, or any cookies. On the other hand, I am on the Board of a local Boy Scout Council and know that without these kind of fund raisers (boy scouts sell popcorn and coffee), these organizations could not bring their program to the community. That would mean that lots of kids could not do high adventure backpacking treks and the like which is both physically and spiritually enriching. Not everyone can sell magazines, greeting cards and wrapping paper. The truth is that cookies and popcorn sell; the other stuff no so much. So my reply is kind of, and in a polite way, put your money where your mouth is. If you don’t want girl scouts or boy scouts selling this stuff, write a big check to the groups to make up for the lost revenue. Peace.

    • Dr John says

      Yes, Jeff, you are correct to say that it’s a personal decision as to whether one buys cookies. The point is that organizations like Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, public schools and the like, are bound to more than just raising funds. The message (the means, if you will) matters. And here, the message that comes from selling unhealthy cookies during our current public health crisis is unsettling.

  4. Varun Sharma says

    The biggest problem I have with those cookies is their use of partially hydrogenated oils… the second ingredient in some cases! So unwholesome…

  5. Paul says

    People who eat Girl Scout cookies are not going to be suddenly healthier if the cookies disappear. Cookies and many other high fat, high sugar food is still available. demand doesn’t change – only supply. At least the Snack budget takes a bigger hit and the money helps a worthwhile organization. We need to work on the demand part and that doesn’t change without education.

  6. Greg Friese says

    For many of these organizations…GSA, BSA, Hockey, Soccer, Marching Band, etc…I much prefer to simply make a cash donation. There might be more life skill development for the child to make the ask instead of making the sell.

  7. Pete says

    I think a bigger problem is the junk and fast food at hospitals. Google Cleveland Clinic McDonalds. They actually have a McDonalds there. I’ll have big-stent and a convergent maze procedure and supersize my fries please! This is all over the country. Even the non-chain luncheonettes at hospitals have sugary coffees and high fat cupcakes, biscuits, and buns.

    To Cleveland Clinic’s credit they have a “Fitting Fast Foods Into a Heart Healthy Diet” webpage when eating the bad food they have there:

    To help you cut back on fat and calories when ordering hamburgers, try these suggestions:
    Choose a single patty, preferably 3-4 ounces in size
    Choose from the children’s menu or pick a junior size
    Skip the cheese
    Opt out of bacon
    Skip the mayonnaise or special sauce; try ketchup or mustard instead

    Hold everything!

    Johns Hopkins has a very busy Burger King right across the street! I’m surprised they don’t have a law, like with the sex offenders and schools, where they can’t have them within so many feet of the hospital.

    I figure people only eat Girl Scout Cookies once a year (I don’t ever eat desserts myself), but the employees and visitors at hospitals eat the fast food every day. I always wonder about the high percentage of overweight EMTs and nurses. It always got my attention. In the back of my mind, I always wondered if they work where they do to be close to medical treatment. Hope that doesn’t sound to cynical or sarcastic… but the subject of American institutions and unhealthy food was brought up .

    Oh well… “Take me out to the ball game, Take me out with the crowd, Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks (and a nasty hotdog with God knows what’s in it)…

  8. Travis says

    I couldn’t disagree more with this post. It really rubs me the wrong way when people claim that organizations need to take a higher road or do something different just to make the you feel better about the world. The reality is, these cookies sell. Just take a look at this article as evidence:
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/03/15/girl-scouts-dominate-cookie-sales/1989791/

    It’s a once a year thing. The world isn’t suddenly going to change for the better (as apparently defined by you) if the Girl Scouts starts selling something else that you approve. Which begs the question…what would you recommend the Girl Scouts sell then to raise money? What would be acceptable to you?

    And why not consider all the good the Girl Scouts program does for young girls instead of focusing on the cookies they sell once a year?

    Let’s stop telling everyone else what to do and focus on our own lives. The obesity issue starts in the home. Parents need to take charge and set the example. It also comes down to personal responsibility.

    There is nothing wrong with the Girl Scouts selling cookies. I say good for them. If you don’t like them, then turn the other cheek and don’t buy them – but don’t get on your high horse and tell them they need to sell something else that YOU approve of….please.

    Travis

    • Dr John says

      Thanks Travis. I appreciate the candor. Yours is a great comment. And I want to reiterate our agreement on ownership of health.

      My point is about “brand fit.” The Girl Scout brand, as you say is about doing good, so their means to an end (raising funds) matter…as in awareness of public health. I have the same problem with the Girl Scouts selling inflammation as I do with health organizations, like the American College of Cardiology, aligning with Coca-Cola. Coke and cookies are fine; they just don’t fit with organizations that promote making the world a better or healthier place.

      • randy knight says

        Perhaps, Dr J, you should be less concerned with what the Girl Scouts are selling and more concerned with what the medical profession recommends with its nonsense food pyramid.

        Ever seen their recommended diabetic diet?

        What about the medications like statins they poor down the throats of people around the world.

        And you are concerned with GS cookies.

        I think you need to wake up from your dreams coated with good intentions.

  9. Julie Cristal says

    With all due respect, simply be virtue of the Girl Scouts and their moms being thin, you generalize that “they apparently are not consumers of their own product?”

    The heaviest I have ever been is when I cut out all “bad food.” It lead to binges and eating issues.

    Outlawing Girl Scout cookies is not the answer here. It is way too simplistic an argument.

  10. kjfoto says

    Dr. John,

    Great piece. I am amazed at some of the knee-jerk, contrarian arguments written in response. It’s almost as if they did not read the entire article and/or understand your line of thinking.

  11. jane says

    They should be pressured to remove trans fats from their cookies, but really, a box of Girl Scout cookies once a year is not going to kill anyone. This is the same sort of killjoy attitude that has people putting apples and granola bars into the bags of those few lucky kids whose parents still let them trick-or-treat at Halloween. It’s one thing to say we should save sugary fatty treats for special occasions; it’s another to say we should never eat one ever again. And if we are going to indulge on occasion, why is it better for a megacorp to get the profits?

  12. Verted says

    You’ve admitted in the past you occasionally “sin” and have a full test Coke. Why can’t the rest of us “sin” and have an occasional GSC.?

    Otherwise, I agree with the comment to donate without taking product. We did that all through school candy drives. It’s about personal choice and responsibility.

    • Jeff Patten says

      Sin?? That’s the wrong perspective on this. If you don’t have the health of your body (You ARE your body – mind included), then you have nothing.
      Any “sin” marks your blood for a full season. Today’s cookie will be with you till Summer.
      I’m talking about elevated blood sugar.
      Your A1c knows.
      Whether in diabetes or just near the threshold, increased blood sugar is your deadly enemy.
      The concept of sin is nonsensical. It’s your life, your very mind, that we’re talking about here.
      “Dementia” is much scarier than “sin”.
      http://www.medpagetoday.com/Neurology/Dementia/42446

      So, count me with Dr John – the whole nine yards!

      • Verted says

        Wow Jeff. I’m talking an occasional cookie, and you’re talking dementia.

        Sorry about my tongue in cheek comment ribbing John a bit. But that’s OK. I had a cookie last month, so I’ll forget I even wrote it :-)

      • Jeff Patten says

        Ah. I didn’t see where your tongue was, Verted. :-)

        I, myself, haven’t had a cookie or anything like it for four years.

        My first A1c had me a Pre-Diabetic.
        People presented with this sort of lifestyle-consequences eye-opener either change how they live or they fold to their natural and nurtured urges. The American human animal comes hard wired for salt, fat, and sugar and all aspects of our food industry feed off this. ($$$) It’s only to be expected that we get locked into this addiction.
        How to fight it?

        When my mother heard what the surgeon general had to say about cigarettes, she quit her two-pack-a-day forty year addiction cold. She behaved like Dr Strangelove for a few months, but I was proud of her. She did it.
        I’d like to think that she’d be proud of me, having chosen to struggle.

        It’s not easy. Any addiction will change you permanently.

        But the Primal Cookie Urge does wane with time and success. I drive right past the girls in green without looking back, no second thoughts.
        Cold.

  13. T Gutshalk says

    If we could transport ourselves to,say the nineteen forties or fifties and have the girl scouts selling cigarettes I believe most of the same arguments that were offered would apply. It seems to take a lifetime or maybe two for social opprobrium to build.