November 10, 2008

In The News: Sweet Detention

An article in yesterday's New York Times reports on the nutritional metamorphosis taking place in several hundred school districts across the country.

A California law that passed in 2005 and went into effect last July set "strict new state nutrition standards for public schools, [requiring] that snacks sold during the school day [including at bake sales] contain no more than 35 percent sugar by weight and derive no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat and no more than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat."

Some schools are taking this further and applying it to birthday celebrations in the classroom.

"In Guilford, CT, the school district’s health advisory committee has decided that birthday parties belong at home. At A. W. Cox Elementary, birthdays are celebrated with an extra 15 minutes of recess, special pencils or a “birthday book club” with commemorative inserts."

I applaud these innovative concepts.

While there is nothing wrong with celebrating a birthday at school with cupcakes, I find it critical to instill in children that it is possible to enjoy these moments without highly caloric food.

After all, it is precisely this behavior that is later replicated in adulthood and can become problematic.

I am consistently surprised by the amount of people who will eat a slice of cake handed to them at an office birthday celebration even if they are not hungry or in the mood for cake.

It can be very difficult to undo the "you always eat a slice of cake at a birthday party" reflex when it is perpetuated several times a year from preschool on.

At the same time, a few of the images and anecdotes shared in this story worry me.

First, the mention that "Piedmont High School [in Piedmont, CA] banned homemade brownies and cookies" from bake sales.

Does this mean commercial varieties are allowed? If so, what is the logic behind that? I would much rather have a cookie simply made with flour, butter, sugar, and vanilla than one out of a box listing 20 ingredients.

If the lack of information about included ingredients (and amounts) is troublesome, why not cut up each brownie square into two triangular halves and sell them that way?

Lastly, am I supposed to believe that whatever else is being sold at these bake sales is somehow healthier than a brownie or a cookie? A lemon square or oatmeal raisin cookie can have just as many calories, sugar, and saturated fat.

Then we have a photograph of teacher Anna X. L. Wong of Berkeley, CA, reviewing “good foods” versus “bad foods” with her kindergarteners.

In the photograph, we can see that candy, cake, bubblegum, ice cream, and soda fall in the "bad" category, while a variety of fruits and vegetables make the "good" column.

I am not arguing that candy, ice cream, and soda are healthy (although I do think that labeling bubblegum as bad is ridiculous), but I really hate the overly simplistic good food/bad food dichotomy.

I find that it often leads to obsessive thinking, guilt, and can inaccurately be perceived as "foods that should never be eaten."

I would find it much more helpful if kids learned about foods from a consumption model ("foods to eat every day/once a week/only occassionally.")

What confuses me most is that many of these schools so intent on banning homemade baked goods for "health concerns" still allow sugary sports drinks and vitamin-enhanced drinks (which often contain just as much sugar as soda) to be stocked in their vending machines.

I guess it's hard to turn down those companies when they offer to build you a football field, huh?

Very interested in hearing your thoughts.


Catherine said...

Interesting article. I applaud schools for trying to be more health conscious, but really - no more homemade sweet-filled bake sales? Those are mainly just to raise money for sports teams. Growing up I really enjoyed bake sales because I love cooking and helping my mom bake. I think that is crossing the line a bit. Ban soft drink machines, unhealthy school lunch options, but bake sales and the option to bring in treats for your child's birthday? I think that's ridiculous.

Lori said...

I really like your idea of teaching children about "foods to eat every day/once a week/only occassionally." In my teens and early twenties, I struggled with feelings of guilt when eating certain foods I thought of as "bad", which made me want them more.

At the age of thirty, I'm finally over that way of thinking and try to eat certain (high-calorie) foods in moderation.