“Sugar invasion”: excess snacks sour children’s four-day walk

A banana is fine: constant candies are not Photo: Depositphotos.com

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Dutch children spend four evenings trekking through their nearby parks or woods, in an effort to inspire a new generation with healthy living.

But councillors in Amsterdam are concerned that the Avond4daagse – the four evening walk – has been sabotaged in recent years by a “sugar invasion”. Instead of a stroll, they believe, it now is a 5km or 10km stretch full of “non-stop Twixes, licorice laces, vegan pig gummies, happy cherries, Chupa Chups and all kinds of crisps, ice creams and cookies mixed with cola, Red Bull or other sugary drinks.”

According to formal questions submitted to the council executive by the CDA Christian Democratic Alliance and PvdD Party for the Animals in Amsterdam, the trend is “problematic” and something needs to be done.

Rogier Havelaar, head of the local CDA, told Dutch News that things have certainly changed in the 28 years since he himself was 12.

“This is a really lovely tradition where children spend four evenings walking, but although the fourth evening was always a kind of party where you got sweets from people standing along the walk, in recent years, from the moment the children leave to the finish line, it is non-stop snacking,” he said. “A sweetie or two is fine, of course, but this has got out of hand. So we are asking the municipality what it can do to incentivise healthy eating.”

He said that schools organise pitstops for children taking part, although the event is organised by volunteers. But while some concentrate on handing out cucumber sticks, others apparently give out sweets. “There is nothing wrong with eating a sweet or two, but 5km of nothing but sweets…it’s a sugar invasion,” he added. “A lot of municipalities are talking to schools and the evening organisers about how they can make this event a little healthier.”

The Avond4daagse is co-ordinated by the national walking association KWbN “with a mission to get as many children as possible moving and to give them an unforgettable party.”

It says that 500,000 Dutch children take part every year and that it tries to stimulate local organisers to think about healthy eating, with the help of organisation JOGG. “Over-consumption of sugar is a social problem and there is good that there is more attention to this and more knowledge about healthy living,” said spokeswoman Mariëlle Vissers. “In the information we provide [to local organisers] we hammer home making it as healthy as possible, asking a local farmer for sponsorship with apples instead of snacks…or suggesting parents don’t buy sweets but other presents.”

The event grew out of a tradition of evening walks as a way of organising gatherings during the Nazi occupation in World War II and developed during the 1980s largely into a children’s challenge. “We still have some adults who walk,” said Vissers. “One man is doing it for the 77th time. He walks every year because he thinks it’s a great way to keep moving.”

It’s a Dutch tradition, she added. And one that some believe should take a healthier turn.

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