Perhaps you have heard the latest news: a school in Toronto has banned children from brining 'junk food' to school for lunch or snack. Apparently, this is supposed to foster healthy eating habits and curtail the obesity rates that we are facing.
As a nurse, I completely understand why this is occurring. Obesity is on the rise. But, even as a nurse, I look at the MULTIPLE causes of why this is so. Is it simply because kids are eating 'junk food' at school? What exactly is junk food? This school defines it as chocolate, candy, chips. etc. Okay, I understand that these are problematic foods when eaten in excess. Perhaps banning them from school lunches will help reduce obesity. BUT, kids can still eat these foods at home or on the weekends. Also, what kind of message are we giving kids about these foods? Is IT JUNK? NO. No food is garbage. Yes, these snacks might be not so nutritious because they contain more calories and/or sugar and fats, but they are still okay to eat in moderation, Suppose a child really wants a chocolate bar but cannot eat it because she is at school. Will she go home and eat an apple instead? No. She will go home and eat the first chocolate bar she sees in sight. Theoretically speaking, this can even lead some children or teens to lean towards binge eating, when they eat so much in one siting because they have been deprived for so long.
Now, what kind of message are we teaching kids about healthy eating? That if you want to eat candy, you cannot eat it at school because you aren't allowed? That you cannot enjoy foods in moderation? Is this really the ONLY way to reduce obesity? What about other healthy ideas, such as having more exercise in the day at school? What about teaching children how to make healthy choices - as in, eat a chocolate bar only once in a while but choose other options like fresh fruits because they have more benefits for your health. Why can't we teach children to schools to enjoy things in moderation? Why do we need to ban the kids from bringing this food to school? To me, this ban is basically telling kids: you cannot eat candy at school because candy is bad and if you bring it school you will be told to bring it back home because it is not healthy and this will make you fat.
Can this lead to eating disorders? Certainly. It is already making foods seem bad. It is also encouraging children to hide the fact that they want to eat sweets. We don't need to pretend that obesity doesn't exist - I understand that this is a problem. But so are eating disorders. The solution to the obesity issue is NOT to stop kids from bringing these foods to school. The solution is to teach the kids HOW to make healthy choices and WHY this is important. The school should take time to HELP kids understand how MODERATION is essential for a healthy life - moderation in all things, not just food. Instead of banning and calling these things 'junk food', the school should MOTIVATE kids to enjoy a healthy lifestyle and balance of food, work, play, sweets, laughter, socialization, and learning. We cannot tackle the issue of obesity by simply eliminating junk food from schools because this isn't teaching kids HOW to make healthy DECISIONS. It also isn't helping kids because they can get candy from other places such as home. Also, kids might try to sneak these foods in - and what happens if they get caught trying to eat chips? Will they be singled out and labelled as being a 'pig'? Will the teacher have to talk to their parents? Will they, so to speak, get into TROUBLE for wanting to eat something?!
Personally, I love chocolate. And if someone told me that I couldn't eat it at school, I would be really angry. And I would try to sneak it into school. And if I got caught and people made fun of me, that would be very hurtful. Then I would simply eat lots of chocolate when I got home because I have been deprived of it all day at school. I would also do this on the weekends. So, has the school helped me learn about healthy eating? No. Quite the opposite - they have tried to solve one problem by creating a million more. Honestly, it is time that we stop listening to the 'experts' about how we need to cut out all sweets. We need to start thinking of where the problem is, and how we can tackle it without creating other issues. We need to think of the issue as a WHOLE and help TEACH people about healthy eating. The children at this school will never learn how to make healthy eating decisions if they are simply not allowed to bring sweets to school. My point? STOP trying to 'cure; obesity by fostering negative attitudes about food. START engaging children and society in habits that allow them to UNDERSTAND why and how to manage a BALANCED life.