Has a group of parents in Philadelphia gone too far in battle to watch what students eat?
Every day a group of parents stand guard outside the Oxford Food Shop in North Philadelphia – foot soldiers in a national battle over the diets of children that has taken on new fervor.
With 20 percent of the nation’s children obese, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed new standards for federally subsidized school meals that call for more balanced meals and, for the first time, a limit on calories. The current standard specifies only a minimum calorie count, which some schools meet by adding sweet foods.
Amelia Brown, the principal of kindergarten through eighth grade at the William D. Kelly School in Philadelphia, says students’ terrible eating habits cause headaches and stomachaches that keep them from learning and older students are already showing unhealthy weight gain.
The obesity rate in Philadelphia is among the nation’s highest. At the intersection of North 28th and West Oxford Streets, the Oxford Food Shop and the William D. Kelley School are in a tug of war over the cravings of kids. Like schools throughout the nation, Kelley has expelled soda and sweet snacks.
As Strollerderby previously reported, it’s the corner store’s fault. A Temple University study suggests that as little as an extra 200 calories a day can make an adult overweight. The study found children were getting 360 calories a day from chips, candy and sugary drinks — all for an average of $1.07. That’s why Kelley’s principal, Ms. Brown, asked owners of nearby corner stores to stop selling to students in the morning.
Gladys Tejada, who owns the Oxford shop, said, “It’s a good thing, what they’re trying to do, but I can’t control who comes in.” And she can’t control what they buy either. “They like it sweet,” she said. “They like it cheap.”
Since 2001, a Philadelphia organization called Food Trust has worked to get corner stores to offer healthier foods, but some store owners say they’ve lost hundreds of dollars buying foods that perish before they’re sold.
Frustrated that her pressure on stores had not worked, Ms. Brown called on parents and Operation Town Watch Integrated Services, which typically helps neighborhoods fight crime and drugs.
“I need you to go to those stores and say, ‘Look, can you not sell to our kids between 8:15 and 8:30?’ ”Ms. Brown said, kicking off the effort in January. “ ‘We don’t want them to eat sugary items. There is a breakfast program right here. And if you don’t do this, we’re going to have to boycott for a while.’ ”
With local parents on watch duty at the corner shops some children now pass the story without stopping, but others continue to go in and buy their usual junk food. After several weeks of parent intervention, Ms. Brown said more children were skipping the corner stores, showing progress against the pull of sweet snacks.
What do you think? Is the principal’s efforts to fight junk food commendable? Do you ultimately feel that a child’s diet should be a parent’s responsibility? And what about the pressure to boycott store owners who sell sweets to children? Is that an unfair tactic or just a part of the battle to keep children from overeating the wrong foods?