When associate editor Krystal Gabert sent me a recent New York Times article about Obama's proposed federal ban on junk food in schools, particularly snacks offered in vending machines, I thought for sure it would be another "evil food processors are making children fat" story. But it seems as though (this time) the food industry has escaped criticism and we are instead blaming schools for offering so many obesity-inducing options to children.
So the solution, according to the Obamas, is to federally control snack offerings in our nation's schools. Personally, I think "banning" anything is a bad idea. It is basic human nature to want the things we are told we can't have. Kids, in particular, are crafty, especially when it comes to Kit-Kats.
And this doesn't just apply to junk food. For example, in the early 90's, a slap bracelet fad swept through the American school system. These bracelets were flexible stainless steel spring bands, sealed with colorful, patterned fabric covers (I had a leopard print one). When "slapped" against the wearer's wrist, the bands sealed into a bracelet shape. Everyone who was anyone in school had one, if not several, of these fashionable toys. Inevitably, a few kids found a way to injure themselves with bracelets, so schools around the country started banning slap bracelets.
Now, a simple little school-wide ban wasn't going to stop a bunch of fad-craving 10 year olds. Kids found a way—some walked to stores and cleaned out their inventory, while others just asked naive parents to buy slap bracelets in bulk. Slap bracelets were trading hands at bus stops, in hallways and in bathroom stalls—a black market slap bracelet trade was in full effect—inevitably spurred on by schools telling kids they simply couldn't have something.
Yanking candy from vending machines won't stop kids from eating it. Kids learn by example. As much as we all try to deny it, to a degree, we have all become our parents. If parents have decent eating habits and make an attempt to serve their children nutritious food and explain why, kids will learn this behavior. This doesn't mean kids won't eat candy—eating candy until you are nauseous at least once in your life is almost a rite of passage for children. (Mine involved a slumber party and a pound of Starbursts—over 20 years later, I still can't eat the things.)
It always comes down to moderation. While kids might have less of a grasp on moderation than adults do, I think we are underestimating the intelligence of America's youth. After all, if they are smart enough to figure out how to get candy when it's not immediately available to them, they are probably smart enough to realize that eating their way into obesity is unwise. In addition, some of the schools mentioned in the New York Times article were high schools. I find it hard to believe that these students are old enough to drive cars, vote in elections and serve in the military, but not to realize that three Twinkies and a large Coke every day will make them fat.
And I'm willing to bet that if Malia Obama wanted a chocolate bar in the middle of the school day, the Secret Service would be happy to oblige.
What's your take? [email protected].