Tuesday, February 2

Junk Food in Schools: Whose Responsibility Is It?

I came across an interesting article by American Alex DiBranco, "Junkfood Unwelcome in Canadian Schools, Eh?" on change.org, and it got me thinking: at what point do we relinquish the responsibility of food choice to our children? I'm sure eliminating vending machines and removing the unhealthy foods from cafeteria menus will be a change for the better, but is out-of-sight-out-of-mouth the best way to teach the lesson we want our students to learn?

As teachers in Ontario, we have been advised to cease using food as a reward, which of course makes sense with the obesity epidemic, as well as dental health, the effects of sugar, the list goes on. I would hate, though, to reach the point where we get our wrists slapped for occasionally sharing gumballs, or where fundraising causes are less successful because the pizza-party incentives are removed. Intrinsic motivation is a wonderful skill to foster, but kids are kids, and a gumball and a slice of pizza go a long way. My little gold cardboard classroom "treasure box" is full of tangible treats like stickers and dollar-store toys, but I'd prefer the teacher give my daughter a gummy worm and leave the dust-collectors at school!


At least in a cafeteria or vending machine, kids make an active choice. Not so for the brown-bag (I mean, reusable container) students who are stuck with whatever has been provided that day, which sometimes is pretty scary: think chips, cookies, Dunkaroos and a pop. However, the hummus-on-a-pita-with-a-V8 kids are known to be serial snack-traders.

If students attend university or college (or better yet, jump in to the working world) the greasy, fattening fare will be there to tempt them. Don't we want them to have the knowledge and self-control to make the better choice?  (Let's be clear: I personally lack this self-control. If there is a deep-fried option, I'm taking it. But maybe I can help prevent that in my students, and my own daughters.) Education, both in the classroom and in the home, should be more impactful than the removal of machines.

The last line of the article is the best point: "Once again, when it comes to health, it'd pay off for us to take some pointers from our neighbors up north." Well, we knew that.

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