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Do Girl Scout Cookies Still Make The World A Better Place?

It's a pretty bold move to blast Girl Scout cookies, those precious sugary treats whose limited run from late winter to early spring is just about over for the year.

But a few brave voices argue it's no longer all that delightful to see little girls peddling packaged cookies, or to buy them in the name of supporting the community. (And no, this is not an April Fools' joke.)

Could you possibly eat just one Thin Mint or Samoa?
Andrew Prince / NPR
Could you possibly eat just one Thin Mint or Samoa?

To some doctors and parents, the tradition increasingly feels out of step with the uncomfortable public health realities of our day.

"The problem is that selling high-fat sugar-laden cookies to an increasingly calorie-addicted populace is no longer congruent with [the Girl Scouts' aim to make the world a better place]." That's what John Mandrola, a heart doctor in Louisville, Ky., wrote on his blog in March. (He also blogs for Medscape/Cardiology.)

The sentiment was echoed by Diane Hartman, a writer and editor in Denver, who penned an indignant op-ed in the Denver Post, "Why are we letting Girl Scouts sell these fattening cookies?"

"They have some trans fat, some palm oil and are high carb ... all those things you've probably been trying to avoid," writes Hartman. As Allison Aubrey just reported, it's the refined carbs in our diets doctors say we really should be cutting.

Unsurprisingly, Hartman and Mandrola took some flak from readers for questioning the tradition, which is almost a century old and touted by the Girl Scouts of America as "the premier entrepreneurship opportunity for girls." Cookie revenue (65 to 75 percent of the cookie retail price), of course, goes to local Girl Scout councils, which typically spend it on Girl Scout activities, camps and properties.

And come on, it's not like we eat Girl Scout cookies all year round, right?

"Girl Scout cookies are sold for a short time each year," Girl Scouts of the USA's chief communications officer, Kelly Parisi, tells The Salt in an email. "As such, Girl Scout cookies are considered a snack treat and are intended to be enjoyed in moderation."

But as Robert Lustig, the passionate anti-sugar crusader and pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, notes, that argument just doesn't fly anymore.

That's because Girl Scout cookies are followed by a steady stream of other seasonal snack treats intended to be enjoyed in moderation: like Peeps and Cadbury cream eggs and candy corn and candy canes. (McDonald's knows this trick and every year rakes in the profits with limited-time-only marketing of its McRib sandwich.)

"If you gorge out on Girl Scout cookies and that's all you did all year, it wouldn't matter," says Lustig. "But you don't. Girl Scout cookies are just another sign of the problem of hyperconsumption. ... It's no better than Tony the Tiger selling Frosted Flakes, and in a way it's worse because you're co-opting innocent children."

Indeed, Girl Scout cookies are addictive. And one glance at Twitter suggests no one's really eating them in moderation:

The New Yorker captured our collective guilty tendency to rip through boxes of cookies perfectly in this week's Shouts and Murmurs column on revisions to the nutrition label:

"Girl Scout Cookies, Samoas, 7 ounces
Serving size: Just one more cookie.
Servings per container: Look, I'm really sorry, O.K.? I know they're your favorite. I don't know what happened. I promise I'll get you some more when I go out later. Just chill out. Jesus."

OK, so the cookies are a guilty pleasure.

But what bothers Mandrola, the doctor whose blog post challenged the Girl Scouts to reconsider the ethics of selling cookies, is that this addictive relationship we now have with sugary foods is showing up every day in his office, in the form of heart rhythm disorders linked to obesity and hypertension.

"I spend my days telling patients to eat less, eat better and exercise," he tells us. "So to me it seems like the Girl Scouts are profiteering off an obvious public health problem."

Hartman, the writer in Denver, has a suggestions for what the Girl Scouts might sell instead: energy-efficient light bulbs.

What do you think? Should the Girl Scouts find something more healthful to sell for their fundraising?

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Eliza Barclay
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