July 28th, 2011

Bad News for Junk Food Junkies in Massachusetts Schools

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junk food banned

There’s been lots of talk about childhood obesity being at an all-time high: approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and teens aged 2—19 years are obese.

In support of Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign, Massachusetts Public Health Council just voted to make sugary sodas and other sugary foods a thing of the past. These new regulations are thought to be the strictest in the nation.

I have been reading a lot about the new regulations in Massachusetts to try to get a better grasp on what it really means for our kids. There seems to be a lot of conflicting information out there about what/who and when this is all taking place. After some fancy detective work (thanks to Boston’s National Public Radio WBUR, Meghna Chakrabari and Adam Ragusea for helping to clarify), I’m ready to summarize for the masses.

The law DOESN’T apply to tray lunches. The USDA subsidizes the cost for these meals so the dietary restrictions are already heavily regulated by the federal government and the states can’t make changes. So pizza, tater tots, tacos and sloppy joes will continue to grace our children’s lunch menus.

The law DOES apply to vending machines, snack bars, student stores, à la carte lines and school fundraisers. These are foods sold outside of the federally regulated meal program. The government told the states that they were free to set up their own guidelines and Massachusetts did.

The new Massachusetts law says:

  • Starting in 2012-2013 school year- The only foods that can be sold in vending machines, student stores and through fundraisers will be foods that have less than 35% of their calories coming from added sugar. Bye bye soda, candy, cookies and sports drinks. Harvard researchers have shown that a 20-ounce soft drink contains the equivalent of 17 teaspoons of sugar. Drinking a moderate amount of  sodas or sports drinks can lead to a high risk of heart disease and diabetes.
  • Chocolate and other flavored milk will get an extra year and won’t be banned until August 2013. The reason being the council wanted to give extra time for the milk companies to find a way to produce chocolate milk with less sugar. WHAT? I’m interested to see how that one plays out.

Will we be able to bring cupcakes, candy, cookies and other sugary foods into school?

According to WBUR the answer is NO!

The new law won’t allow any sugary foods to come into the schools for parties, events on school grounds during the school day or for fundraising.  So, no birthday cupcakes, no Halloween candy and no Valentines Sweethearts. Parents of children with allergies can jump up and down now. Life just got a whole lot easier.

My bottom line: This is a HUGE change for most Massachusetts school districts. I posted a link to the new regulations on Groovy Green Livin’s Facebook Page and received a few comments from people concerned about the removal of chocolate milk from the lunch line. Many felt this was the only way their child would drink milk.

I think the obesity problem is underestimated by many. It’s important to send a message to children and families that it’s imperative to balance what goes into your body. Education surrounding good food choices is a big component of this message. Hopefully this is and will be incorporated into the school curriculum. Children are where it’s at-they can take this information and run with it. The hope is that it will help with lifelong food decisions and ultimately prevent obesity. The reality is the schools can’t do it alone-reinforcement has to be put into practice at home. If the kids go home and drink soda and eat a few candy bars and cookies the system is still broken.

What you can do

You can urge congress to support healthier meals by sending an email to your Member of Congress and asking him/her to sign on and improve school meals. Click HERE to send your letter. It won’t take more than a few seconds.

What do you think of all this? What do your schools do when it comes to sugary treats and/or drinks? Does your state have legislation in the works? What do you think about removing chocolate milk from the lunch line?

[Photos used under Creative Commons from vwb5/Flickr]

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