Well, yesterday marked an unwelcome milestone in my 12-year-old daughter Temperance Sternstein-Fernandez’s life: She spent the morning strapped down to an examination table at her pediatrician’s office, shrieking hysterically as she received the first in a series of three shots to be administered over the next six months to protect her against infection from Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
One in 10 Americans—my daughter Tempy among them—have a pathological fear of needles.
As I sat in the doctor’s office, fuming at my daughter’s humiliation and discomfort, I couldn’t help but wonder: What responsibility, if any, does the chocolate industry own in the transmission of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) that disproportionately affect teens, women, and especially women of color?
Plenty, it turns out.
We are in the midst of a teen sex epidemic in this country, people. And rather than be “part of the solution” to this problem, the chocolate industry, an $83 billion a year business according to research firm MarketsandMarkets, deliberately and aggressively peddles a known aphrodisiac to teens. Instead of encouraging safe, healthy decision-making, the chocolate industry continues to lure our vulnerable teens—who are already a storm of hormones without their help—into risky sexual behavior, stimulating our young people’s basest appetites with their seductive advertising appeals.
Let’s review the facts and stats (all from the CDC except where noted):
Fact: About 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV.
Fact: Nearly half of the 19 million new STDs each year are among young people aged 15–24 years.
Fact: Sexual risk behaviors place adolescents at risk for HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Fact: Chocolate is a known aphrodisiac. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that women who habitually ate chocolate on a daily basis reported higher sexual function scores than those who did not. Two chemicals in chocolate—which the industry refuses to remove from its products—are the culprit: One, tryptophan, is a building block of serotonin, a brain chemical involved in sexual arousal. The other, phenylethylamine, a stimulant related to amphetamine, is released in the brain when people fall in love.
Fact: The chocolate industry slyly forges links between the consumption of its products and sexual conquest. In her groundbreaking book on the chocolate industry, The Emperors of Chocolate, author Joël Glenn Brenner asked a chocolate industry executive whether or not chocolate was an aphrodisiac. The response: “ ‘We have no evidence to support that it is true or it’s not true,’ [the executive] said with a smile.”
Fact: In its study, “Food for Thought: Television Food Advertising to Children in the United States,” the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation report that kids are exposed to a shocking 18,000 ads a year—and that slightly more than a third, or 34 percent of those ads, are for candy.
Fact: U.S. kids can name more candy brands than U.S. presidents, as reported on this website in 2012, when COCOH released the results of a comprehensive epidemiological study we conducted.
Fact: As I have reported elsewhere on this website, at the same time Big Chocolate objectifies African-American women in its ads, Black and Hispanic women have higher rates of HPV-associated cervical cancer than white women.
Ads like this send a dangerous mixed-message to young women and girls.
It’s a sinister equation, people: Chocolate + Teens = Increased Promiscuity and Increased Risk for STDs.
It’s just not fair that Big Chocolate makes my job as a parent so hard. Unable to resist the temptation of candy bars within easy reach at the supermarket checkout stand and inside school vending machines, my Tempy has ballooned to 314 pounds—despite a long-overdue growth spurt. (She’s now up to 5’3″!)
She has endured seven summers of weight-loss camp, stomach-stapling, and ER visits, like the one I reported about in 2012, when she overdosed on Paula Deen’s reckless and irresponsible “triple chocolate pudding.” And now, as she stands on the brink of womanhood, a mother’s worst fears are confirmed: Her dependency on chocolate may turn me into a grandmother before my time and put Tempy at risk for cervical cancer.
Thanks a lot, Big Chocolate!
[To learn more about my inexhaustible efforts to expose corporate malfeasance in the chocolate industry—specifically inside the paneled corridors of the wily and redoubtable Prock Chocolate Corporation— I invite you to purchase a copy of the novel CORPORATE AMERICA, which has been praised by critics as “hilarious and witty” and a “rollicking good read.”]