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School District Bans All Sweets

child obesity, junk food

A delicious bite of contraband.

Kids of St. Paul, Minn., load up on the cookies now. Because if you’re a student in a public school there, you’re going to have to go without sweets during those many long hours you’re on school grounds.

All public schools in the St. Paul school district will be, by the school year’s end, sweet-free zones. That means no more cookies, cinnamon rolls or cakes for dessert with school lunches. Little Debbie’s snack cakes will be confiscated from home lunches. And concessions for school fundraisers can’t include hot chocolate or brownies.

No birthday cupcakes.

The St. Paul school district‘s ban on sweets is an effort to live up to a wellness policy that parents, school administrators and teachers agreed on — but didn’t really act on — four years ago. It’s an effort to fight child obesity but also to get the district ready for the Child Nutrition Act, signed recently by President Obama, which could impose stricter rules on schools than simple soda bans.

The ban, which also includes fat- and salt-laden snack foods, isn’t expected to dramatically lower the districts 40 percent obesity rate. But it’s an effort, administrators say, to begin doing things differently. Teachers will come up with new ways to reward students other than with pizza coupons. Parents will have to find something other than cupcakes to bring in for a birthday celebration.

This ban won’t be popular with the students, no doubt. And plenty of parents will feel as if they’re lunch-packing rights have been encroached upon. I can’t blame either of these groups for feeling that way, but still, I like the message that this ban sends. The adults are sending the message that they care about student health. They’re saying, “we’re trying something different here. Let’s figure out a way to make it work.”

At first blush, this junk food ban seems liberty crushing. But schools have dress codes and I don’t think keeping cupcakes and Doritos out of lunches — for health reasons! — is any worse than requiring students to wear closed-toe shoes (for safety!). As with dress codes, some parents won’t back the policy and Doritos will make an appearance in the lunchroom. Since the worst consequence is a verbal reprimand, this will likely happen often.

But this sweets ban isn’t in service of someone’s power trip or some kind of skirt-length morality measure. It’s about health, living up to a promise the school made the kids a few years ago. It’s about acting as a group, using peer pressure positively, moving together as a group toward more healthy eating.

No, there’s nothing wrong with a cookie. But there’s nothing wrong with no cookie either. We know what can happen with cookies. I’m interested in seeing what happens without them.

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