Schools Promoting Fast Food & Junk
In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control declared obesity the most important public health issue in the United States. Mrs. Obama has made it her mission to promote healthy food for kids through her Let’s Move program and organizations like Parents Against Junk Food are fighting desperately for school lunch reform.
Every day, new media emerges covering the topic of health and obesity in children. But, have our local schools gotten the message? The answer seems to be a resounding, no.
With nine out of 10 schools offering junk food to kids, the USDA supplying schools with the same food as is supplied to prisons, approximately 1 in every 5 schools selling branded food in their cafeterias and vending machines still placed in 97% of high schools, it is clear health is an afterthought in the public school system.
Recently, my 5 year old son brought home paperwork from his elementary school, which served as the catalyst to this article. The homework asked the kids to fill in the word When, before each sentence describing a fast food restaurant. For example, “When can we go to Mcdonalds?”
After a concerned phone call with his principle, I was shocked that she found my concerns inconsequential and even insisted that the school was, “very health conscious.”
This supposedly very health conscious school, has promoted Lucky Charms, several fast food restaurants, Hershey Kisses and Chuck E. Cheese in just the last week alone. This is on top of the supposedly healthy breakfast menu of donuts, waffles, pop tarts and muffins (I won’t even touch the lunch menu).
I wasn’t surprised to find that this is a common problem, but I was shocked by the blatant opposition to my parental concerns (especially with the wealth of publicity this topic now receives).
Perhaps even more troubling, are school practices associated with food-rewards. An article published in the December 2005 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, found schools that provide students with food incentives and rewards are associated with higher body mass indexes – Martha Kubik, PhD.
My son’s kindergarten class receives candy rewards almost daily for good behavior, and nearly every PTO activity to-date has focused around junk foods like ice cream, pizza, sugary cereals, chips, candies and other snacks. Is rewarding children with junk food a positive practice?
Research shows it isn’t, and that it may encourage addictive food behaviors in the future. With 1 out of every 4 children in the U.S. expected to have early onset diabetes by 2012, the propensity for handing out food rewards for good behavior is a very real concern.
I have to admit I was hesitant to make a fuss over the problem. No one wants to be the parent who spoils the party. However, my own son came home one day begging to go to Mcdonalds (which is a rarity). After pulling his schoolwork out of his back-pack and finding the “When can we go to Mcdonalds?” project, I immediately made the connection. Not only was I shocked to find that a school project would center on fast-food, but I was horrified to find that a kindergarten project would promote specific fast-food brands.
Being self-employed in the advertising field, I’m very familiar with the term Nag Factor. Which is a term advertisers use to describe children nagging their parents for products. It is estimated that approximately 80% of children’s products (including food) are sold when kids nag their parents to purchase them. Advertising for kids is designed to encourage the Nag Factor for this very reason.
Children are exposed to marketing every day, through product placement in grocery stores, billboards, television shows, books, magazines, packaging and movies (If you haven’t seen the Nintendo Wii on Despicable Me, try looking again). This is just the tip of the iceberg, and though these practices may be disgusting in the marketplace, they are completely unacceptable in our schools.
Even if you don’t have your own children in public school, the mere fact that our taxes are funding these poor food practices should be a concern for everyone. Because school districts are mostly managed by your local school board, the solution to these problems starts very close to home; with parents, teachers and the community.
Our children are our future and it is our responsibility to provide for their well-being. With the magnitude of the health crisis in schools today, it seems we are failing to do so, on the most basic level.