September 25, 2007

A Nutritionist in Every Classroom?

Marc Comtois

Last week, the Warwick School Department sent our kids home with an opt-out letter from the city-wide Body Mass Index (BMI) measurement of all students. Of course, the actual "opt-out" portion was only mentioned after a longer legitimization of why the program was being implemented (PDF). The letter included dire warnings of the spread of childhood obesity and was followed by an explanation of how our school department was helping to combat the epidemic by attempting to measure the BMI of all Warwick students. It all sounded good on the face of it.

My wife and I discussed the BMI measurement program. We recognized that there may be an overall benefit of having our healthy kids added to the statistical baseline for Rhode Island students. We even briefly played "what if" over whether or not our kids would "suffer" long-term emotional scarring when all of their friends got their BMI and they didn't (heh). In the end, we opted-out. But the BMI is just one component of the "Healthy Schools Initiative" that is being implemented in Warwick. Again, while it all sounds like a good idea, things are getting a little out of hand. Some kids have actually had their lunch boxes searched for contraband by the in-school Food Police.

[Eileen] Brown said...“The teachers sent home [another] letter saying that only healthy snacks would be permitted as of Sept. 17,” she said. “They’re taking what the child eats out of the parents’ hands.”

Eileen said she does her best to send her kids to school with healthy snacks and food that is good for them, but she said she has a problem when teachers start dictating what her children can and can’t eat.

“There’s a possibility of kids not being allowed to eat a snack if the teacher deems it unhealthy,” she said. “They’re dictating what the kids should eat, but that should be a parent’s decision.”

Eileen said she sent one of her daughters to school with a Quaker oatmeal fruit bar, but the girl was told it contained too much sugar and her teacher took it away from her.

Eileen said she looked up nutrition facts for the oatmeal bar and compared them to other fruit snacks, like an apple or grapes and found that the oatmeal bar has less sugar and is healthier than either the apple or grapes.

“Teaching healthy choices and teaching the food pyramid is a good idea, but I don’t agree with kids being told they can’t eat a snack,” she said.

Since when did we ask our teachers to be nutritionists? I've heard them say they do enough already (and they do). Why are we asking them to take time (and, implicitly, money) away from doing the core mission of our schools: EDUCATION.

Now, I understand that healthy eating habits may fall within some broad definition of education, but isn't it up to the parents to decide their child's nutritional needs? But, of course, the school system bureaucrats don't think that enough parents are up to the task of raising healthy kids on their own. They know best. Even better than your child's pediatrician, as a matter of fact.

The Wellness school paradigm is affecting other areas, too. The Sunday ProJo ran a NY Times piece about the "cupcake wars."

...cupcakes have also recently been marched to the front lines of the fat wars, banned from a growing number of classroom birthday parties because of their sugar, fat and “empty calories,” a poster food of the child obesity crisis. This was clear when children returned to school this month to a tightening of regulations, federal and state, on what can be served up between the bells.

And it has led some to wonder whether emotional value, on occasion, might legitimately outweigh nutritional value.

When included on lists of treats that parents are discouraged or forbidden to send to school — and when those policies are, say, put to a vote at the P.T.A. — “cupcakes are deal breakers,” Professor Nestle said. “It sounds like a joke, but it’s a very serious problem on a number of levels. You have to control it.”

As the article implies, cupcakes and other no-no's are integral parts of more than just in-class birthday parties (which are really just snack-time with treats provided by the celebrant's Mom). What would a PTO bake sale be with out things that are, um, baked? The reality is that the PTO (or "A") holds many fund-raisers that have a "sugar component" to help generate revenue for everything from playground equipment to class trips. (Of course, they wouldn't have to do so much fund-raising if the school budget had a little more flexibility). Take away these fund-raising staples, and it gets harder to raise money. It's easier to sell cookies than candles, after all. Ever heard of a Veggie Sale (Carrot Cake and Banana Bread don't count, do they)?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating for school improvements built on the tummies of our kids, but this all-encompassing program seems like another bureaucratic over-reach. Look, no one can argue against limiting the sugar and fat intake of our children, but an all-out ban leaves a sour taste in my mouth (couldn't resist). Besides, it could lead to an unanticipated kickback. (Imagine that, a government program that doesn't take unintended consequences into consideration).

Let's say the programs are effective and kids eat healthy for the 6-7 hours at school. What about the rest of the day? I'm sure that some kids and parents will alter their lifestyles and become healthier eaters, but I'll also bet that just as many--if not more--will just put-off the "junk food" gorging until after-school (never mind what can happen over the summer). Heck, some parents may even fall into the trap of thinking that, because little Johnny eats healthy all day at school, he can have chips and a soda because he ate healthy all day.

And this all doesn't even take into account the make-up of the average school lunch (PDF). I wonder who'll be inspecting them? Mmmm, Cheeseburgers, Pizza, Chicken Fingers (Deep Fried), BBQ Ribs, Hot Dogs, Tacos, etc. Oh, sure, there's some veggies, too. But who are we kidding? Are the lunch room monitors going to ensure that every kid eats his veggies? Doubt it.

I bet Mom can pack a lunch that is quite a bit healthier than that, which will contain food that she knows her kids will eat. If they don't, she'll find something that they will. And the school department won't even have to tell her to do it. That's the way it should be.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

"All your snacks are belong to us!"

And the liberal nanny-state dream takes another step forward.

Posted by: Brendan at September 25, 2007 6:15 PM

All the while they continue to cram High Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrogenated oils and Grade F meats down the kids throats.

Have you even LOOKED at the ingredient list for 'fruit juice'?

As for why kids are getting fat in schools, you jerks took recess and phys. ed. away!

Posted by: Greg at September 25, 2007 6:53 PM

Teachers confiscating lunches at a public school? Surely this is a single overzealous administrator. Such a policy wouldn't survive even a phone callfrom a lawyer.

Posted by: Mike at September 25, 2007 7:06 PM

Yeah, Mike?

Try bringing a peanut butter sandwich within 50 feet of a school. Apparently peanuts have the ability to sense and attack children with peanut allergies and do so regularly. And this is a new phenom that didn't occur when we were in school.

Posted by: Greg at September 25, 2007 7:15 PM

This is another initiative that is handed down to teachers!! Some evidently are following a little too zealously, but I would imagine that rest have no interest in playing the "food police"!!

Posted by: Frederick at September 25, 2007 7:37 PM

Amen regards the recess comment. No where is the hypocracy of modern education policy more blatant than here in this issue. In my school, a middle school, there is no recess. A 12 year old boy is expected to get on the bus at 6:45, get off at 2:45, have no unrestricted play time at all in between and yet be expected to behave well, perform academically, and also be a paragon of nutritional health. The Peanut law has already coined two new terms: the "Nut Table" and "The Peanut Nazi". So next we are going to have "The Cupcake Nazi"?

The idea that middle school caters to the emotional and developmental needs of children is a fraud. So is the idea that school systems are concerned with nutrition. What we are seeing is just another phenonmenon along the paranoia\power fetish borderline of our present popular culture. Check out the Rand Corporation's "Focus on the Wonderyears", their study of the functioning of American middle schools to get a glimpse of how aweful an experience school is from the viewpoint of the children.

Posted by: iggy at September 26, 2007 6:47 AM

The Educational Titanic of RI is listing heavily to port (left), and these "educrats" are preoccupied worrying about the china sliding off of the dining room tables!

Posted by: Tom W at September 26, 2007 10:40 AM
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