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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24 Responses to “Bad News for Junk Food Junkies in Massachusetts Schools”

  1. Finally, we are on the road to being verri well! Thanks for the post!

  2. Love that they have done this. I don’t buy into the argument about getting kids to drink milk via chocolate milk. Milk in its conventional processed form is not healthy anyway so they are lucky if their kids don’t drink it IMO.

  3. I think it’s not the states job to tell us what we can or can not eat. If a parent feeds a kid junk, then that’s the parents issue.

  4. Thanks for doing some research. After your post of Facebook I did a little on my own too. I live in MA so I was particularly interested. I am NOT happy that it doesn’t apply to the school lunches. I understand that MA can’t touch these, but the federal guidelines on these lunches are a joke. I want to talk to the nutritionist who believes that tortilla chips covered with what looks like cheese whiz, a side of white rice, and a piece of cake is a balanced nutritious lunch! I kid you not. This is one of the most popular lunches. It disgusts all of the parents!
    Our school banned snacks for birthdays a long time ago. So that won’t be an issue. But I’m wondering about school parties. We always have fruit along with the cookies, cake, or whatever sweet treat. Still not sure how I feel about this part of it. Maybe going too far. 3 times a year, I don’t think it’s awful for the kids to get some sort of sweet treat in school. Dessert every day for lunch is another story.
    I get where some people are coming from with the chocolate milk being the only way their kids will drink milk. I wouldn’t have believed it, except that my oldest daughter has been this way since she started drinking milk at age one! I resisted for a year! Tried everything else I could think of. Then finally gave in to some chocolate to get her to have some calcium. She does not eat yogurt or much else that contains calcium. But then again, she doesn’t buy school lunches often and I think not having flavored milk will at least send her a message that Mom isn’t all wrong not letting her have choc. milk all the time. But I guess there still will be choc. milk at lunch, right?

  5. I think that this is a step in the right direction but we still have a long way to go. The school lunches are so awful and cheap, so people buy into the scam. It is so awful that it is cheaper to be unhealthy than not. UGH! I hate that.

  6. Hi Francesca! I love how you tied in your fabulous site-we are on our way to being verri well!

  7. I agree Tiffany-chocolate milk isn’t the answer to kids drinking more milk. I can’t imagine how the milk industry is planning to come up with a chocolate milk product that has less sugar. I don’t drink milk or eat milk products because I also believe cow milk isn’t healthy. I do think it’s fine for schools to offer regular milk(without any sugar) to children-they then have the option to purchase, but don’t have to.

  8. Hi Renji-I agree-we all should have the freedom to choose what goes into our bodies. However, the schools offering junk food in vending machines or at a fundraiser is sending the wrong message to our children-that junk food is OK and not necessarily unhealthy. The obesity problem is scary and lots of kids are incredibly unhealthy because of their food choices. By not offering candy bars, soda and cookies during the school day (and hopefully educating students about nutrition and healthy habits) our kids will be better equipped to make better choices as they grow up. Parents are going to continue feeding their kids junk outside the school day-and that right hasn’t been taken away.

    My kids eat relatively healthy at home, but if I gave them a couple bucks and sent them off to school -I can promise you that a candy bar or soda would be purchased at some point! I feel better knowing that they won’t be tempted. If I want to give them junk I will.

  9. Hi Kristina-That lunch sounds inedible, but I believe it’s one of the most popular lunches! How did the banning of birthday treats go over in your school system? I think there would be a lot of resistance here. I agree-the federal guidelines are ridiculous and need to be revamped. Small steps… I feel mixed on the parties too. I know how much my kids love them. The problem is that some classes have many more than 3 each year. My son was in a class one year that had a party every Friday.

    My understanding is that there won’t be chocolate milk in the lunch line. This would be considered an a la carte item. Although it will be there if the milk industry finds a way to make chocolate milk with less sugar!

  10. We do have a long way to go Meg. These are baby steps and at least they’re headed in the right direction. School lunches are disgusting-at least at my kids school, but they seem to love them (probably because they eat them 4 or 5 times a year and they’re a special “treat”). They are in no way healthy…..I hate that too!

  11. awesome!!! can the chocolate milk…can all the milk as far as I’m concerned!..give each kid a “kleen kanteen” and let them fill it up all day long ;) GREAT steps for MA!!!!

  12. That’s a great idea Jessica-have some sort of fundraiser so each kid gets a Kleen Kanteen! If all the kids filled them with water so many issues would go away. I guess that being somewhat unrealistic….but I like to imagine.

  13. Great news! What a huge step in the right direction. It’s so important for schools to set the right example for our children and for the rest of us adults!

  14. It is a huge step Andrea. They have a long way to go…but every small step matters. How are the schools in Canada?

  15. I know that a brand new food and beverage policy is being implemented in schools in the province of Ontario starting this September, but I haven’t read the details yet. I’ll make sure to write about it next month!

  16. Hi Lori – the banning of sweets for birthdays happened before my children started school so I’m not sure how it went over. My guess is there were parents who were not happy about it. By the time my daughter started, no one really even mentioned it.
    Parties every Friday – yeah a little too much. My fear with banning treats at parties (provided they are a few times a year) is that we would be going too far. Treats are fine once in a while and I think we need to teach our children that. I think it would be crazy and confusing to ban sweets from a few parties a year, but still provide a dessert with EVERY school lunch.
    Still, I am proud of the changes MA is making, small steps indeed. It would be interesting to compare reactions around the state.

  17. Good point Kristina-if we’re giving our kids dessert with lunch how can we rationalize cutting out all sweets from school. There has to be some consistency. Having said that, I’m not sure that all schools have dessert with each lunch. I don’t think the schools in our town do.

  18. Andrea-I would love to hear the details of the new policy in Ontario. Please be sure to write about it.

  19. There are so mant things wrong with this. An example of tackling a serious issue with the most extreme, militant response imaginable. I understand that there were good intentions at the heart of the issue, but this isn’t the right approach.

    First of all, eliminating ALL sweets ALL the time isn’t sending the right message to kids. Abstinence-only education methods haven’t worked with sex, haven’t worked for the “war on drugs,” and won’t work with food. Teach kids that sugar is always evil and always deadly (misinformation!) and there will be unintended repercussions. I won’t go more into that here though.

    Not allowing kids ANY treats in their school setting is just cruel. I remember as a kid how much I looked forward to the special treats for classmate birthdays and holiday parties, etc… eliminating them altogether is ridiculous. Moderation, folks. Moderation.

    More importantly though, the fact that we’ve placed complete responsibility with the government to not only parent our children, but now us? Doesn’t anyone else find something fundamentally wrong with this? I understand that this is a tired argument, usually flanked by some cookie-cutter ideological framework. Well, that’s not my position. I’m not speaking from a political party handbook, but rather an independently formed perspective. So no bias here.

    The additional fact that this legislation is in diametric conflict with the federal lunch program is a joke – so laughably absurd that I can scarcely believe it. Talk about mixed messages – the poor kids won’t know what to think or who to believe.

    This measure has its heart in the right place I suppose (wanting to do something to combat child obesity), but will ultimately have little impact. I forsee a black market of sweets in schools, for one. Also, the surge and prevalance of obesity has a lot to do with QUANTITY of food eaten just as much as the QUALITY of the food.

    Eliminating sugar in schools still serving highly unhealthy foods is akin to putting a band-aid on a festering wound. And when the limb starts becoming black with gangrene and the band-aid falls off, what are we going to do next?

    That’s right, screaming for more legislation. The sooner we realize that more laws and government control is not the answer, the better. Our children will thank us for standing up for their future.

  20. Hi Judy-Thanks so much for your perspective and such a thought provoking comment. I do agree that the new regulations are not the answer. But I do think they are a step in the right direction. It’s true that it isn’t the governments job to police our parenting, but I don’t view this as a parenting conflict. The treats brought into a school setting raise a number of issues. We,as parents, aren’t at school to help with parenting decisions. Those decisions are left to the teachers and staff during the school day. Therefore your argument for moderation (which I do agree with) can’t be implemented unless we ask the teachers themselves to moderate what our children eat. I do think it’s the schools responsibility to educate our children on nutritious choices and eating in moderation. This can then be reinforced at home. Also, from the perspective of a parent with children who have life threatening food allergies-the new regulations are a dream come true. I won’t have to worry constantly about my child going into anaphylactic shock during the school day from eating someones birthday cupcake. I’m not saying that I didn’t look forward to eating birthday treats and holiday parties when I was in school-I most certainly did. This legislation only reduces the sugar children are exposed to during the school day-it’s by no means eliminating all sweets from their lives-they can go home and drink all the soda they want and eat all the cupcakes they can stomach. This needs to be a joint effort between family and school.

    I also agree that the school lunches are currently horrible and sending mixed messages to our children. If that’s what they equate with healthy then it’s no wonder obesity is at an all time high. Thanks again for your comment Judy.

  21. [...] mean walking is any less important. It’s probably more important now given the increase in childhood obesity rates- approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and teens aged 2—19 years are [...]

  22. Has anyone at all given consideration to the invasion of the classroom curriculum that this new law has done? I haven’t heard one work in any medium about how children will be denied the joys of using food as a classroom learning tool, especially in the elementary school classroom: think measuring, think celebrating traditions, thing literacy connections, think science, think multicultural understanding, think metaphor. About 12-15 of the most joyous, HEALTHY, and wonderful celebrations of learning among my students were just thrown out the window. No more pomegranate seeds with Persephone and the Pomegranate, No more coconut with Chicka Chicka boom boom, No more cornbread on Thanksgiving, No more brown and white eggs for Martin Luther King’s Birthday, No more celebrating individual students cultures, No more, ginger with the Gingerbread Man, No more measuring ingredients, No more sharing and saying please and thank you to offerings, No more apples in apple season, No more pumpkin seeds to bake after a unit on estimating and counting. What on earth were they thinking? That teachers make kids obese and unhealthy? It’s offensive and an invasion.

  23. and ps. all of these were done with parental permission, and clearance for all allergies from parents and from the school health office.

  24. You raise an interesting issue Patricia. What about all the “food” items used for learning purposes such as counting and measuring? The problem is there is no regulation and no guidelines in place for these activities. My son was in a classroom where every Friday was a “party”. They incorporated counting and measuring, but they also ate a lot of really bad food (ice cream, saturated fat filled cakes that they baked etc…). I’m all for everything in moderation-but every Friday seemed a bit much. This is just one example of how no rules or guidelines can lead to a bad situation that really isn’t teaching the kids anything but bad nutrition. Unfortunately, there are plenty of good situations out there too. Thankfully there are lots of other items that can be used to teach counting and measuring. I certainly don’t think the teachers are to blame for obesity and ill health-but where do we draw the line? That’s the 20 million dollar question :)

    As a parent of a children with food allergies, I can’t thank you enough for checking in before doing a project that involves food. It’s because of teachers like you that school is a very safe place for our children.

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About Lori

I’m Lori Popkewitz Alper, a recovering attorney, mom of three and the Founder of Groovy Green Livin. I hope you'll join me as I embark on a journey to live a healthy life. Along the way I might make a few pit stops to fight for issues that affect the health and safety of our families. Come along with me as I work hard to make the world a little safer for each of us. Together we'll discover that simple, small changes can lead to a healthier lifestyle and a greener planet.

Click HERE to contact Lori

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