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Pros and Cons of Stocking Junk Food in School Cafeterias

written by: Mita Majumdar • edited by: Tania Cowling • updated: 1/13/2011

Obesity is no doubt the result of poor eating habits but banning junk food in schools may not be such a good idea after all. Keep reading to find out why.

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    The Impact of Poor Food Choices

    Childhood obesity is a growing problem not only in America but in other developed nations as well. Research shows that today’s school going children are almost three times as likely to be overweight than they were 20 years ago.

    Obesity in children can give rise to many diseases once thought to affect only adults. Type-2 diabetes that may progress rapidly to insulin required, fatty liver disease leading to cirrhosis, hypertension, sleep disturbances and many orthopedic complications can develop as a result of obesity in young children.

    Junk food has been identified as having negative impact on student health because they are high in fats and simple sugars that contribute to weight gain. And compounded by the reduced physical activity among children, it’s a perfect recipe for obesity and other lifestyle diseases.

    Moreover, eating lot of sugary food (real junk food) reduces the capacity of students to pay attention in the class and do well in their studies. So, there’s no doubt that junk food is one of the main causes for rise in obesity among children.

    But will putting a ban on these foods in schools improve the prevalent situation?

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    Why Banning Junk Food in Schools May Not Be Such a Good Idea?

    Simply banning junk food in schools may not solve the problem of bad eating habits in the children. Kids can always smuggle in junk food even if it is banned from the school cafeteria. Keeping a tab on children by digging through lunchboxes and lockers may not be feasible. Moreover, this would harm their privacy.

    Secondly, school going children can continue to eat junk food before and after school even when it is banned at school or they can always go off the school grounds to eat meals. The junk food vendors will eagerly serve them. And that’s not all! Banning junk food may prove counter-productive, since the children will see them as ‘forbidden fruit’ and crave them.

    Again, learning to make good choices is part of education. How will the children learn to choose healthy food if they are not given that option? The better alternative would be to teach the children about the benefits of good nutrition and regular exercise. Also the schools can provide students a wider variety of choices and educate them to make ‘healthier’ choices.

    An important fact that can’t be overlooked is the financial support from the cola giants and fast food corporations to raise funds for school activities. Most schools cite revenue factor as a reason for not banning junk food in the schools because they have to rely on the money from vending machine and soft drink contracts. For example, Minnesota schools make about $40 million per year from just soft drink sales.

    Let’s face it. Junk food in moderation does not have any bad health effects. It’s only when children go overboard with fatty and fast food that problems begin. A better option for the schools would be to offer healthy food in the school cafeteria without completely banning junk food.

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    Government and School Policies Can Make a Difference

    Schools alone can’t be singled out as the battlefield for combating childhood obesity. Governments, communities, parents and schools are all responsible for changing the social and cultural norms to reflect a healthier lifestyle.

    A study from the University of Minnesota published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that school vending machines and school stores selling junk food were more prevalent in high schools than middle and elementary schools and that a state level policy may be an effective tool in addressing junk food issues in schools, more so in elementary and middle schools.

    Good news is that comprehensive nutrition standards have been developed by some states and school policies are being re-worked to include concerns such as meal schedules, food sold for school fundraisers and in school stores, content and operation of vending machines, financial support of school nutrition programs as well as nutrition and physical education.

    The Task Force on Childhood Obesity produced a report outlining strategies to address childhood obesity. It includes ‘providing healthier food in schools, ensuring access to healthy affordable food, increasing opportunities for physical activity, empowering parents and caregivers with better information about making healthy choices, and giving children a healthy start in life.' This is certainly an important step in the right direction!

    REFERENCES

    http://healthymeals.nal.usda.gov/hsmrs/Maryland/Healthy%20School%20Toolkit.pdf

    http://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/resources/e_app1.pdf

    http://journals.lww.com/co-endocrinology/Abstract/2011/02000/Metabolic_effects_of_obesity_causing_disease_in.6.aspx

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20630161

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/09/01/presidential-proclamation-national-childhood-obesity-awareness-month