adventures in craft beer and real food

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Political Commentary: junk food in school

A recent spate of news articles have brought attention to the growing scandal (so-called) of schools selling junk food. It's even brought the attention (and sometimes ire) of bloggers. Many say that it's unacceptable for schools to promote and even profit from childhood obesity.

Many of the responses to one of these articles, however, were misguided. The gist of the article is this: Even though schools in Boston have forbidden the sale of unhealthy snacks, students still indulge in junk food because they just bring it from home. The response goes something like this: This shows that the ban on junk food doesn't go far enough; junk food should be forbidden in school no matter where it's purchased.

Not so fast I say.

Now, I'm sensitive to the fact that experts say that today's youth are unhealthy and that there's a growing obesity problem in youth. But this solution isn't the right way to go.

For one thing, I wonder what the people who oppose junk food being sold in schools think of contraception-first or abstinence-first sex education. America's progressives claim that not providing contraception encourages unsafe sex (because students will have sex with or without protection). Which is true. But then they turn around and say that not making junk food available will stop the consumption of junk food among students. Talk about hypocrisy. Students will indulge in junk food whether or not it's available or allowed in schools.

And let's not forget that children are getting, on average, more heavy is a comprehesive problem. It's not just about eating junk food in schools, the caloric intake in itself probably contributes little to childhood obesity. Eating less overall, eating a greater balance of food, and regular exercise need to be prioritized together. This policy fails beause it only tries to tackle only one of these goals.

A better solution might be to teach students how to make their own decisions, so they themselves decide not to over-indulge in junk food. Simply cutting it out of schools like this simply makes a forbidden apple. Schools should work harder to work with parents, who -- I would argue -- have the exclusive right to decide what kinds of foods their children should eat. That right does not lie with schools. To say otherwise is to take a dangerous step backwards toward the mistaken policy of in loco parentis.

This entire issue is yet another example of cultural nannyism where one group of people thinks they know what's best for another group of people. The school nurse at Mildred Avenue School, Sue Burchill, sums it up when she's quoted as saying ''They are not capable of making good choices at this age, so you have to do it for them."

I don't know about you, but I knew that Three Musketeers and Munchos were unhealthy when I was that age. I knew that I shouldn't be guzzling Jolt. What the school nurse is saying is that even though 12 year olds can and have been tried as adults, that they have the cognitive ability to fully consider the ethics of murder, they don't have the cognitive ability to decide what to eat. What policies like this do is quite simple: it prevents children from making mistakes. And I think we learn the more from our mistakes than from our laws.

1 comment:

xenobiologista said...

Overeating of junk food is a cultural issue, really. When I was 10, my American cousins came over to visit. Their parents brought along a lot of candy to give out to us and various other small relatives. The first day at our house, each kid got a handful of Hershey's miniatures. My sisters and I stashed them in the fridge and rationed them out over several days...the other kids scarfed them in about five minutes.

Economics plays a part - the fact that junk food's so cheap and easily available encourages kids to purchase it, but it's also a cultural thing - candy and chips consumed as occasional treats versus as staples.