I hate being one of those crotchety old people who hears a story, shakes his head in disgust, and says, “When I was a kid…”
Yet, I find myself in that position (hopefully I am not crotchety however).
“When I was a kid…” I don’t remember parents bringing birthday cakes or cupcakes to classrooms. I just don’t think it was done way back then; maybe they melted on the stagecoach ride over. Who knows? Yet, times change and it appears to be standard operating behavior for parents to do so nowadays — that is, unless you reside in Northern Kentucky.
Burlington Elementary School in the Bluegrass State revised its wellness policy.
The end result is a ban on food for school birthday celebrations. We’re not just talking about cakes; rather — in the interest of promoting healthier food choices — ALL other snacks are now verboten. Non-food “treats” such as pencils, balloons, erasers and book-marks are suggested. (“Happy birthday Johnny, now blow out your bookmark!”)
The intention is laudable; they’re actually doing some-thing to combat the ever-burgeoning obesity crisis and attempting to shift the focus of celebrations away from food. Good on them for that. And there are indeed health concerns involving food allergies; not to mention, I imagine it’s purt’ near impossible to school a child redlining on a sugar buzz.
Yet I have concerns.
Boone County is in the forefront of this brave new no-sugar-for-you world, but they do not stand isolated. The Edmonds School District near Seattle will soon be doing the same thing to promote healthy eating and food safety also. Some schools are providing gift pencils, origami frogs, and extra recess time in-stead of sugary goodies.
Though birthday treats are off the table (quite literally), the ban is not without exception. Their wellness guide states “food may be served at three classroom celebrations (such as seasonal, cultural or curriculum related) per classroom per year.”
DJ Jakala, spokeswoman for the District, points out, “We’re not just talking about one cupcake a year, we’re talking about 25 cupcakes a year.”
Before I mount my soapbox, let me again give props for the objectives of both districts (and I imagine more to follow). The goal of decreasing the amount of sugar consumed by children (let alone adults) is admirable, even necessary. Yet, as they say, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”
Let’s take a step back and look at this objectively.
Having a cupcake on 25 different days of the year is NOT causing childhood obesity. It’s what’s happening the other 340 days of the year.
Substituting birthday cupcakes with paper frogs is sending the wrong message; labeling some foods as “bad” and others as “good.” Whereby there is a nugget of truth there, I have worked with people los-ing weight (myself included) for over 40 years and learned a thing or two about a thing or two about such classifications. When one describes eat-ing choices as “black and white” and eventually slips up (which we all do), he or she transfers the label — and a dose of shame — to herself. I’ve heard more times than one can shake a calorie at, “I was really bad. I ate some cake (or ice cream or chips).” He or she is not “bad;” he or she make a mistake. “Bad” cannot be corrected; mistakes can.
We might argue it would be great if we could just ban sugar, but it ain’t gonna happen. So instead of shame-basing foods, we are now provided a great opportunity to teach what makes for healthier choices and what does not. When empowered with such knowledge and a better decision is made by choice, rather than edict, it sticks, eventually becoming a life-style, lasting far into the future.