Is requiring snacks that are sold at school be healthy government “overreach?” Should schools be raising money by feeding children food that is high in sugar, fat and salt? Metro Atlanta Board President and cardiologist Dr. Paul Douglass shares his thoughts in an editorial scheduled to run in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on August 16, 2014.
How many times a week or month is your child buying snack food at school from a club or team raising money? Are those snacks healthy? Or are they full of sugar, fat, salt, and empty calories? Overweight children are at an alarming risk of being overweight or obese adults, which puts them at risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
In an effort to address the childhood obesity epidemic the USDA issued updated guidelines for snack food sold in public schools last year that took effect July 1, 2014. The nutrition standards only apply to snacks sold on campus during normal school hours and up until 30 minutes after the last bell rings. It does not apply to concession stands at sporting events, fundraisers that occur off school property, or to food that a student brings from home.
State Departments of Education were granted some flexibility in allowing a set number of exemptions during the year for on-campus food fundraisers. Twenty-five states have chosen not to allow any deviation from providing only healthy snack options at school, unfortunately Georgia is poised to not be one of them. Last week, Georgia’s Board of Education recommended to allow 30 exempt fundraisers, each lasting 3 days. That equates to half the school year – 90 days – which could provide potentially unhealthy food options in the name of school fundraising. Is it wise or even responsible as adults and parents to balance school budgets on the backs of our children’s appetites?
Many school systems in Georgia have moved away from food-fundraising altogether and seen their revenues rise. Hall County Schools recently piloted a switch from sports drinks to water, despite anticipating a decline in revenue. When that didn’t happen, schools realized they truly didn’t need to depend on unhealthy food and drink to raise money when other avenues, like fun runs, were more profitable. Hall County also expected parent backlash after limiting outside food for school celebrations to twice a year. Instead, parents have expressed their gratitude. Most snack vendors offer healthy alternatives, and schools have found the switch to be seamless. Non-food fundraising also allow for higher profit margins.
Critics, including State Superintendent Barge, call the USDA guidelines “government overreach.” But children are getting over 50 percent of their daily calories at school. Some in lower income districts are receiving 100 percent of their meals from school. Should that food be laden with fat, salt and sugar? If all the available snack choices are healthy, then children will make a healthy selection.
Children can’t learn properly after consuming donuts and candy bars, and teachers can’t run an effective classroom under the physical influence of junk food. We have a childhood obesity epidemic locally and nationally that must be addressed through healthy food options for children, especially when the parents aren’t present to shepherd those decisions. Nearly one in three (31.8%) U.S. children (23.9 million) ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese.
The American Heart Association calls on the State Board of Education to change the proposed policy to ensure that all school snacks are healthy and further guide schools to apply those standards to food fundraisers as well.
Dr. Paul L. Douglass
President, American Heart Association – Atlanta Advisory Board Cardiologist, Metropolitan Atlanta Cardiology Consultants, P.C.