Friday, June 02, 2006

The Food Police May Be Making Kids Fatter

Last month, I wrote about the seeming pointlessness of taking soft-drink and snack machines out of public schools when the desired effect is to prevent kids from being overweight. Now a recent New York Times article (hat tip: Instapundit) suggests that the problem has gotten even worse:
Earlier this year, our small Midwestern school district joined the food wars, proposing a new policy that would discourage all food in classrooms, ban nuts and sugary foods and do away with vending machines.

So much for peanut butter sandwiches, snacks for kindergartners and birthday cupcakes.

Like the policies put in place by school systems around the country, this one was driven by anxiety — about food quantity, quality and safety — and by the ever-increasing pressure for children to look a certain way and to weigh a certain amount.
But wait--it gets even worse:
I fear there's something else at work — a fear borne out by a flier my fifth grader brought home saying that at the monthly pizza hot lunch, no child would be allowed to buy a second slice of pizza. The district says the new ruling is to avoid bad feelings caused by "inequities": if everyone can't have extra helpings, no one can.
Oh, brother. And now the federal government is getting involved, and that can't be good...
Leading the way is the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act now before Congress, calling for updated definitions of "minimal nutritional value" of foods served in schools, including those sold in vending machines and at fund-raisers.

In theory, such legislation would improve the nutritional options. In reality, it sounds like another call for the food police — highly fraught and bound to backfire.
They'll never learn, will they? But at least we don't live in Arkansas...
A look at what's happening on the state level confirms this. In Arkansas, for instance, children's report cards now include their B.M.I., or body mass index, along with their grades. The governor, Mike Huckabee recently lost more than 100 pounds and is passionate about stopping the "obesity epidemic." Maryland is considering a similar standard.

Never mind that B.M.I. is only a measure of height against weight and does not take into account muscle mass, body type or other factors. (Tom Cruise has a B.M.I. of 31, which puts him in the "obese" category.)

"You're setting kids up to feel bad about how they are," says Dr. Nancy Krebs, chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Nutrition and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado.

Such efforts usually fail, making weight problems and eating disorders worse. A recent Internet discussion board among families with anorexic and bulimic children identified middle school health classes, which focus on weight, as the No. 1 trigger for their teenagers' disorders.
Did you catch that? Bulimia at the middle-school level? Maybe the schools should stick to, oh, I don't know, trying to teach reading and math and science and fine arts (oh, and maybe offer regular physical education classes) instead of trying to be the food police; besides, as the article points out, most of the studies involving low-fat, low-calorie school lunches show no difference in the weight and body-fat percentage of students on the special diets vs. those who had traditional school lunches.

Ellyn Satter, the author of "Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming" and a nationally recognized nutrition expert. notes in the NYT article that, rather than getting caught up in the cycle of deprivation and bingeing, parents (and, by extension, schools) should be doing all things in moderation:
Ms. Satter recommends giving children regular access to treats, at school and at home, by including those foods with more nutritious choices at meals and snacks. "Avoid either extreme of forbidding snack-type food or letting children graze on them," she says. "In the long run, this makes children eat more, not less."
There are some great comments on this subject in a recent post at Althouse, and Instapundit has links to more stories here and here; one of the commenters in the first article tells the scariest story so far:
In New Jersey we just received a note from our daughter's elementary school telling us that the new law means that we cannot send unapproved foods (which includes chocolate)in our kids' lunches. In other words, they mandate what is acceptable for us to feed out kids.
Lord help us all...

And in a related story... A school principal in Pennsylvania suspended a student for sharing a piece of caffeinated gum with another student. (hat tip again to Althouse)

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