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Stop bringing cupcakes to school

Some of our best memories in school seem to revolve around food. Birthday parties, Valentine’s Day, Halloween and other holidays celebrated in classrooms highlight sweet treats.  Rewards for good performance often mean candy or a favorite snack.  However, we can no longer use food as an incentive in schools due to the obesity epidemic in kids. Numerous studies show that many adult chronic health conditions are directly caused by obesity that starts in childhood. Consider these sobering facts:

  • Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years increasing from 5 percent to 18 percent over the past 30 year — obesity is defined as having excessive body fat for one’s age and height.  Recent health statistics show that almost 30 percent of U.S. Latino boys aged 12-19 years, and 22 percent of U.S. Latino girls aged 6-11 years are now classified as obese.
  •  According to a 2010 national survey, almost 40 percent of daily calories consumed by children and adolescents come from six sources that are far from what is considered healthy: soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, white flour sugary desserts, pizza and whole milk.  Moreover, adolescents drink more full caloric sodas per day than milk, leading to a host of problems which may include diabetes, hyperactivity, and an inability to focus, contributing to poor academic performance.  Individuals who eat fast food one or more times per week are at an increased risk for being overweight.   Even more concerning, a poor diet increases the risk for numerous adult cancers including lung, stomach, colon and prostate.
  •   Children and adolescents often choose sedentary activities such as TV or video games instead of the recommended daily allowance of 60 minutes of active play. This lack of physical exertion contributes to obesity. Moreover, kids who are obese are likely to remain obese as an adult which in turn increases the risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and arthritis.  In sum, poor eating habits and lack of daily exercise forecast an unhealthy future for our children so much so that today’s kids may be the first generation to live a shorter life than our own.

Congress recognized the essential role that schools play in setting health habits and passed the Child Nutrition and Women and Infants and Children Reauthorization Act (WIC) in 2004 which requires all local education agencies that participate in a national school lunch programs to create local wellness policies.  In 2010, this law was further strengthened by the passage of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act which added even newer provisions for local wellness policies.

How do these laws impact you? 

At a minimum the local wellness policies would require every U.S. school to include goals for promoting and teaching: good nutrition, physical activity, providing nutritional guidelines to reduce childhood obesity; they would permit parents, students and representatives of school food authorities, teachers of physical education, school health professionals, school board administrators and the general public to participate in the development and implementation of these policies; and inform and update the public regarding these policies.  More importantly, there would be measurements on how well schools complied with these goals.

 How can you help promote school wellness in your child’s school?

Here are suggestions how you can promote healthy food habits when helping to plan a school party in the classroom.

  • Do not make food the central reward of any given classroom celebration. Instead, plan on creative games, fun crafts, a fun movie, special bookmarks, pencils, erasers or stickers.
  • Instead of a birthday cake, cupcakes, or cookies, plan on healthy snacks such as frozen fruit bars, low-fat puddings, fruit or vegetable trays, whole grain muffins, granola bars, popcorn, or tortilla chips.  (Take into consideration any students with food allergies in the classroom.)
  • Instead of a party, suggest an extra recess for the children, plan a community service project such as making cards for our U.S. troops or those who are homebound or elderly, or a special lunch with the teacher.

It may seem that it’s “just a cupcake” or “just a slice of birthday cake” but we can make a difference as parents to be role models for our children and advocates for healthier lifestyle choices.  Food habits are very hard to break when they are paired with happy memories, but we can have a huge impact on the future of our children if we start now.

Stop bringing cupcakes to school dr sirven education NBC Latino News

Dr. Joseph Sirven is a first-generation Cuban-American. He is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Neurology and was past Director of Education for Mayo Clinic Arizona. He is editor-in-chief of epilepsy.com and has served U.S. and global governmental agencies including the Institute of Medicine, NASA, FAA, NIH and CDC.

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