Are Girl Scouts Pushing Junk Food?

ByABC News
March 18, 2005, 4:29 PM

NEW YORK, March 18, 2005 — -- Each year the Girl Scouts of America raises more than $400 million, its biggest source of funding, by selling cookies. This year's shipment is currently being distributed, but with the country in the midst of an obesity epidemic, the famed cookies are under fire.

Critics insist they are not attacking the Girl Scouts. But they say the cookies -- the Thin Mints, Peanut Butter Patties and Do Si Dos -- are loaded with empty calories from sugar and white flour.

"We're in the midst of an obesity pandemic and for children who are overweight -- [with] obesity and diabetes -- it's unbelievable," said New York chef Ann Cooper. "And here we have a group that sells hundreds of millions of cookies."

Cookies are part of Girl Scout history. They began selling them at bake sales in 1917. By the mid-1940s, the cookies were so popular and profitable, the Girl Scouts turned over production to two large bakeries. Today most of the cookies are made with unhealthy trans fats, according to health experts.

"Trans fats raise bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol, increase inflammation and increase the risk of heart disease," said Dr. David Katz, associate clinical professor at the Yale School of Public Health.

The cookie boxes read: "... a Girl Scout cookie can build: Strong Values, Strong Minds, Strong Bodies."

Officials with the Girl Scouts of America say the cookies are meant as occasional treats, not dietary staples.

"Balanced, healthy living is not about denial," said Girl Scouts of America chief executive officer Kathy Cloninger. "If occasionally a girl wants to have a treat or our public wants to have a treat, we believe that the Girl Scout cookie is one of the most delicious."

"There's got to be some healthier alternative," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Are we at a stage where the only thing marketable is junk?"

But some say doing away with the cookies would be a drastic move.

"Ideally, the girls would be selling products that don't undermine their customers' health, the kids' health, whether it's healthier foods or key chains, or whatever," Jacobson said.

But Girl Scout key chains are a hard sell compared to Thin Mints.

ABC News' John McKenzie filed this report for "World News Tonight."