Friday, May 4, 2012

Hey Kid, Wanna Buy a Cupcake?

Future headline:
"Sixth Grader Suspended for Possession of Cupcakes 
with Intent to Sell"

I just read in Bloomberg Business Week that a growing number of USA school districts are banning bake sales on school grounds, or restricting the distribution of home-made cookies and sugary treats in similar ways. Schools in Maryland, California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Mississippi, New York City, and Texas are making bold or brash moves to show they are warriors in the battle against the rising tide of childhood obesity. But by banning bake sales, are they building levees to ward off the threats of obesity, or just making the flood-water look more appealing?

Or, is something else, something maybe more sinister and effective, poised to remove cupcakes from their sugary throne?

Personally, I think banning all bake sales during school hours will hurt more than it helps. These bake sales raise needed funds for extra-curricular school groups such as bands and athletic clubs. Plus, to decree that bake sales are leading the scourge of school-age obesity is to ignore the bigger picture: the world of everyday food in school.

Move over, Mrs. PTA Mom’s banana bread, while M&M Mars and Frito-Lay** have their day in school peddling unhealthy calories. It’s easy in most schools for a child to buy potato and other chips, candy bars, toaster tarts, salty hot dogs, and manufactured cookies.  This year, a Robert Wood Johnson study found that

“Federal law bans only a small subset of competitive foods, such as sodas and certain types of candy, from being sold in cafeterias during mealtime. But those products are available to kids in other venues at school, even during lunch.”

These items are likely to contain less fiber, more artery-clogging fats and mood-affective high-fructose corn syrup than their home-baked counterparts. Pile a severe lack of nutrition education on top of this kind of junk food availability, and you can see an environment conducive to eating too much of the wrong things… bake sale or not.

There’s a sensible way to do this!  With an emphasis on nutrition education and leading by example, it’s possible to limit rather than ban school bake sales. I agree, daily cupcake handouts would be counterproductive in this battle. Moderation is obviously the key, and schools can easily find ways to limit the frequency of bake sales. It’s also possible to distribute recipes for healthier baked goodies, and allow or insist on the sale of some non-food items during the bake sale. It’s even possible to use these events as an opportunity to send kids home with healthy eating coloring books or handouts, or handfuls of donated local produce. (Think outside the little white box wrapped in string!)

Please don’t demonize the cupcake! There’s a time and place for it in a healthy child’s diet.

**Frito-Lay does offer a page about sensible snacking that discusses portion size and salt. But doesn't discuss nutrients, vitamins, protein, building strong bones, or fiber.

No comments:

Post a Comment