I've been reading a lot about childhood obesity this week, thanks in part to Michelle Obama's announcement of her "Let's Move" campaign aimed at reducing the prevalence of overweight and obesity among U.S. kids.
Among other things, Mrs. Obama wants school menus to include more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and less sugar, salt and fat. All good, but I can't help but wonder if she has any plans to target foods at school that aren't on the menu. Are fund-raising bake sales and classroom birthday treats going to be scrutinized, too?
Marlene Schwartz, PhD, the deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, has an interesting perspective on the Rudd Center's blog about the need to eliminate "party food" at school. Among other things, she says:
Teaching children how to eat treat foods is hardly a problem - there is no cupcake deficiency in our country ... The challenge is teaching children how to eat healthy foods - and that's 100 times harder if the apples are competing with the cookies on the table. Schools need to work with parents to provide as many opportunities as possible to promote the foods that are filled with nutrients. When the school provides students with empty calories, not only are they not helping, but they are making it worse for parents.
Essentially, Schwartz's post concludes that when kids get lots of junk food at school, it interferes with parents' ability to teach kids how to eat mostly healthy foods and enjoy some less-healthy treats in moderation. Her own daughters play sports and eat their veggies, but also eat a bit of dessert each night, she says:
I do not deprive my children, but I have taught them what moderation is. But it hasn't been easy. When they were younger - in preschool and early elementary school - there were not just the occasional days when they got "treats" when I wasn't there. It happened 25 times a year for birthday parties in the classroom, plus other holidays (e.g., Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, end of year, etc.). Add that to birthday parties at other children's houses, times the grandparents visited, PTO bake sales several times a year for fundraising, treats at other classroom events such as when parents came in to see performances, and you can see that pretty soon it is not exactly "every now and then" that other people are feeding my children their desserts.
So, Mrs. Obama, are you planning to cut down on cupcakes at school?
Photo by QuintanaRoo.