Should We Just “Let Kids Be Kids” When It Comes to Junk Food?!?
|May 22, 2014||Posted by Stacy under Classroom parties, Classroom treats, Cupcakes, Healthy parties, Junk food in school, Obesity, School parties, Sugar|
A class party without cookies, donuts or cupcakes topped with two inches of frosting? Shocking, I know. But this year, thanks to their nutrition-conscious teacher, my twins and their Kindergarten classmates have feasted on fresh fruit and wholesome treats like whole grain carrot muffins at most school celebrations, including birthdays. And guess what? They are still smiling, having fun and getting plenty of sugar!
Given today’s truly scary health statistics, one would think that efforts to cut back on junk food in the classroom would be universally applauded by parents, teachers and school administrators. But alas, we aren’t there yet. While many are supportive of healthy classrooms, others just aren’t on board. Because, they say, our kids shouldn’t be deprived of sugary treats and a party just wouldn’t be fun without them.
“Let kids be kids!’ is the frequent refrain of those who question the logic of serving popcorn and fruit kababs at a class party. Some have fond memories of eating cupcakes and drinking Hawaiian Punch at their own school celebrations. Others seem to view eating M&Ms and Oreos by the fistful as a childhood right of passage. And the impact of all that stuff on our kids’ health? Well, no one really talks about it. It’s as if they think children are immune to the consequences of a diet filled with saturated and trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup and synthetic chemicals.
Sure, when eaten occasionally–in the wake of an otherwise healthy diet–a little junk food shouldn’t pose a problem for most kids. But when consumed on a regular basis and in excess, as is the reality for many children? We’re beginning to learn the unfortunate truth.
THE PROBLEM WITH SUGAR: MORE THAN EMPTY CALORIES
Yes, filling up on sugary foods and drinks can lead to weight gain–and all the potential problems that come with it. But even if your child doesn’t pack on pounds, all that added sugar could be doing serious damage. Researchers are now learning all the different ways that it can mess with our kids’ health, from compromised immune systems and cavities to elevated insulin levels, blood pressure and triglycerides. Plus, children who consume large amounts of added sugar are apt to miss out on essential nutrients that their developing bodies need.
TYPE 2 DIABETES SKYROCKETING AMONG TEENS
According to a 2012 study in the journal Pediatrics, 23 percent of American adolescents are now either diabetic or prediabetic–a shocking 14 percent increase from less than a decade earlier. To make matters worse, Type 2 diabetes is proving more aggressive and harder to treat in kids than it is in adults. Being overweight is a primary risk factor, but normal weight kids are getting sick, too. Research indicates that drinking sugary beverages (just one to two sodas, fruit juices or sports drinks a day!) may increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Other lifestyle factors and genetics also may play a role.
FOOD ADDITIVES & BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS
As if it wasn’t hard enough for students to concentrate: Certain artificial colors and preservatives common in many processed “junk” foods may increase hyperactive behavior in some kids. In fact, in the European Union, all foods and beverages containing any one of six controversial food dyes is required to carry a warning label that says “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” (See the Center for Science in the Pubic Interest’s Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks for more on the hazards of artificial colors.).
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We also have a growing number of kids (an estimated one in 13–or about two per classroom) with food allergies or sensitivities, some of them life threatening. We have kids who are already overweight by the time that they reach Kindergarten. We have kids who REALLY don’t need another cupcake, sugary drink or bag of candy. But if we give it to them, most will indulge.
LETTING KIDS BE KIDS–WITHOUT THE JUNK
I’m not saying that children should be expected to live a life without cupcakes and cookies. There certainly is a time and a place for them. But most are already getting way too much sugar and other unhealthy junk in their everyday lives. If parents want to plan over-the-top sugar fests outside of school, I will not be one to judge. But at school, we need to consider the health and welfare of ALL students. By keeping it healthy in the classroom, we can help ensure that they indulge in moderation. Because, after all, the next birthday party, soccer game or other junk-food opportunity will be right around the corner.
So before planning the next class party or selling Skittles in the school lobby to raise money, let’s remember that the health of our children depends on us. Yes, we should let kids be kids–but not by allowing or encouraging them to eat unhealthy food. Kids don’t need cupcakes and donuts to mark every occasion, and they certainly shouldn’t be eating them every day. So instead, how about treating them to extra recess, allowing them to run around in the school gym, or having a dance party? It would be the ultimate win-win.
WE CAN DO BETTER!
If you’re fed up with the junk food culture at your child’s school, it’s time to take action. With summer break right around the corner, it may be too late to make changes for this school year–but you can get a head start for next fall. So check your school district wellness policy, talk to your school principal, offer to create a school Pinterest page with healthy classroom snack ideas, or ask to start a wellness committee. (See Calling All Moms: Here’s How YOU Can Make a Difference in the Fight for Healthier School Food).
When talking to school staff or administrators, be sure to emphasize the link between healthy eating and academic performance (See Action for Healthy Kids’ The Learning Connection: What You Need to Know to Ensure Your Kids are Healthy and Ready to Learn). Keep it positive and offer to help in any way that you can! Because things are unlikely to change unless you are willing get proactive.