The USA leading the way

Trying to get junk food and soft drinks out of our schools should be a no-brainer. The Government is perfectly within its rights to decide the kind of food and drink that is sold in state schools, just as it decides what is taught. So, why won’t the Government act?

The only plausible reason seems to be that the sponsorship that schools and school-related activities get from Coke and other junk food companies might be threatened if the Government took a staunchly anti-junk food approach. It’d be a sad day if New Zealand had followed the United States in allowing private money to subvert the policy-making process.

So, it’s heartening to see that, despite the awesome influence junk food and drink companies wield in the United States, some states are taking a lead on this issue. As the Times in London reports:

Schools across Connecticut were banned yesterday from selling high-calorie fizzy drinks and junk food in the most radical attempt yet to fight childhood obesity in America.

Children under 11 will also be required to take an extra 20 minutes of exercise a day on top of their normal PE classes.

The rules, praised by parents and condemned by soft-drink companies, are the result of the state Senate passing America’s strictest anti-obesity bill, and mean that all sugary drinks, chocolate and crisps will be banned from all school sites…

Seventeen other states have passed legislation aimed at tackling childhood obesity, but none has gone so far as to impose an outright ban on sugared soft drinks, products of an industry that carries enormous political clout across America and employs an army of corporate lobbyists.

Under the Bill, which faced fierce opposition from some Republicans, junk food snacks and sugared soft drinks sold from vending machines, over the lunch counter or in school shops would be banned.

Schools will not be allowed to sell snacks deemed unhealthy by the state’s Education Department, in a list to be published in January.

These measures are exactly what Sue K was calling for when she launched a School Foods Campaign earlier this year. If only the Government would direct our Health and Education Ministries to get in behind what seem such obvious solutions to such important problems…

6 Comments Posted

  1. Before you call attention to the idea that the U.S. is a world leader in healthy kids, you have to point out that, here in Texas, they tried something similar.

    The Austin American-Statesman reported on a pheonomenon earlier this year – see, Austin High School administrators removed candy from vending machines in the schools.

    What happened was that students started buying candy at supermarkets, and selling them to kids at black-market prices. The Statesman called it “Willy Wonka meets Casablanca.”

    Kids were buying candy bars for $1.50, and the school partially caved and allowed some candy back into the school vending machines – under the justification that “milk chocolate contains milk” and “peanuts provide protein.”

    While removing candy from vending machines and processed food from school cafeterias might be a good start, it will not be a miracle solution.

  2. Bernard – many (most?) people don’t agree with me on this! But to expand on this (at risk of hijacking this discussion)..
    Smokers just happen to be the social pariahs de jour, as they’ve been successfully marginalised by strong activism on the part of groups like ASH. The strength of emotion behind many people’s dislike of smoking and smokers is testament to that.
    A single mal-tuned vehicle pumps out many times the pollutants of a cigarette, and yet most people tolerate them to a far greater degree than they do smokers. Cyclists will sit in traffic beside a truck idling out gobs of diesel fumes with nary a whisper, yet come over all righteous about their rights when confronted by a cigarette. Tetra-ethyl lead exposure from years past provides many times the toxic exposure available from pub air that has been well filtered.
    The fact is we can’t remove all toxins, poisons and dangers from everyday life, but that doesn’t mean we should become vigilantic about one area while ignoring others. If smokers don’t deserve rights, then neither do industry, vehicle users, people with home fires, none of which can be made 100% clean. Which is an obviously ridiculous position.

    My current thesis is that when faced with overwhelming issues like global war, peak oil etc, we need to avoid becoming overly obsessed with more minor issues to the point of absurdity, as a means of avoidance (bernard, I’m not in any way meaning you btw, I’m just generalising here).
    That’s not to say smoking has not been a major issue in the past, but like speeding, it now occupies an unhealthily large place in our attention, way out of proportion to its relative threat, and is thus distracting energy from other areas of greater importance/urgency.

  3. Timely that I should stumble across this today – System Lets Parents Spy on Kids’ Lunches. Naturally we don’t have the infrastructure to roll out such a system, but I think in those cases where kids buy lunch, its great that parents can monitor their purchases. Of course more emphasis needs to be placed on bringing healthy food from home – parents have more direct responsibility this way, but I realise that we don’t always have time.

    Huskynut, I disagree with your comment on minimum air quality for smoky environments. Whenever toxins (and smoke is mostly toxins) are introduced in the air, there are often no safe minimum levels for the chemicals involved. You can only remove the toxins. Leave some there and you may reduce the exposure somewhat, but the toxins will still impact people. Hence the only option was an outright ban. Smokers don’t deserve rights when they are actively poisoning people.

  4. (Preaching to the converted hear, I suspect..)
    What is also remarkable is that these gigantic corporates have become so self-interested (ie disinterested in their customers health) that they have to be restrained by law from selling their products..
    ‘Markets’ demonstrably cannot be trusted to police themselves, despite what the rabid right would say.. a return to the widespread acceptance of the role of good legislative governance is long overdue.

    However. I still believe the anti-smoking legislation overstepped the mark (since the issue was air quality, a better (more respectful of smoker’s rights) solution would’ve been to legislate for minimum air quality, and in places it could be achieved by other methods eg installation of expensive air conditioning, then that should’ve been acceptable.
    Similarly, here we need to set minimum food standards (eg maximum sugar, fat, caffeine content etc), and let manufacturers develop/sell products that meet that criteria.
    Forget about ‘encouraging schools to change’. The risk is that far too much time and money is wasted on tinkering, then a set of standards gets cobbled together and rushed through without adequate peer review and discussion.
    Just proceed asap to getting a robust process underway to have quality, realistic, enforceable standards developed.

  5. It would be good if similar was done in New Zealand. Schools are not places for corporates to develop corporate branding and advertising, as well as develop bad habits in children at an early age. Not to mention they sell crap products. But this would have to be matched by a ban on advertising during after-school television as well.

    That said, I heard on the radio a couple of weeks ago that a school had taken a proactive stance in redeveloping thier menu, getting rid of the pies and fizzies – and they had received widespread support from parents, teachers and even students.

    The only problem with banning fizzy soft drinks, is that you would also have to ban fruit drinks that have high levels of natural sugar as well, otherwise they would become the alternative sugar fix for those that needed it.

    So the final solution here is probably a multi-facted approach, first encourage all schools to change, and then if they don’t – legislate it. Given that smoking has now been banned in bars and the like, how hard is it to ban fizzies and pies from schools?

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