Yes, I know it's practically un-American to attack adorable Girl Scouts, especially during Girl Scout Week. And I get that Girl Scout cookies are incredibly tasty. But before you troop mothers and thin mint lovers out there start sending me hate mail, hear me out.
Let's start with some basic facts: No matter how good they taste, Girl Scout cookies are very bad for you. Many of the cookies contain some combination of enriched wheat flour, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, and/or high fructose corn sweetener, the same combination of highly processed ingredients fast food chains are often attacked for using. And then there are the calorie and fat contents. Let's take a look at the three best sellers. Four Thin Mint cookies pack in 160 calories, 70 calories from fat, and 8 grams of fat. Four Samoas pack in 280 calories, 140 calories from fat, and 14 grams of fat. And Four Tagalongs pack 280 calories, 160 calories from fat, and 18 grams of fat.
And who eats just four cookies in one sitting?
To put that in perspective, four thin mint cookies have just about the same amount of fat as a McDonald's hamburger (pdf), four Samoas have the same amount of fat as about a hamburger and a half and four Tagalongs — yes, that's just four little cookies — have the same amount of fat as two McDonand's hamburgers. And at least with the hamburgers you're getting some protein and a bite or two of vegetables.
I'm not arguing that, in general, people shouldn't eat cookies. Sweet, fatty treats, when eaten in moderation, can be a part of a healthy diet. By all means, people should continue to bake, sell and eat delicious cookies.
But it's an entirely different question whether the Girl Scouts should be encouraging its 2.3 million young participants to peddle deceivingly unhealthy products to raise funds, especially at a time when childhood obesity rates are reaching epidemic levels.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years. Around 20 percent of 6 to 11 year olds are obese, while 18 percent of 12 to 19 year olds are. And keep all this in mind:
*Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
* Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.
* Obese youth are more likely than youth of normal weight to become overweight or obese adults, and therefore more at risk for associated adult health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.
Yes, it's good — no, great! — that selling cookies can help girls learn how to manage money and think like business people. And it's also great that some of the cookie proceeds help girls stay active, make friends and learn other valuable life skills. But those ends don't justify the organization's role in perpetuating unhealthy eating choices among Americans, especially young girls. The Girl Scouts should find some other way to reap those benefits that doesn't involve little girls filling homes, classrooms and offices with little fat-filled Trojan Horses.
What do you think? Vote in the poll below and leave your thoughts in the comments.
Globe file photo: Chelsea Claggett, one of the Bay State's top Girl Scout cookie sellers in 2006.