Seattle may be on the cutting edge of nutrition for students with one of the nation’s strictest bans on junk food, but that may not last much longer. According to their school board, they are losing a lot of money because–shockingly enough–kids don’t want to purchase orange juice and granola bars. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but schools should be allowed to sell junk food.
Healthier vending machines may be a good idea in theory, but the schools are losing money and congress won’t give them any more funding–or allow them to sell junk food to help fund themselves (then again, congress just said pizza was a vegetable so their definition of “junk food” may include unhealthy items that teens would actually want to purchase). So, giving teens the choice of chips and soda may be the only way to bring money back to the schools.
Approved in 2004, the limit on fat, sugar and portion sizes offered to the students throughout Seattle has ended up costing the schools hundreds of thousands of dollars in vending machine profits over the past seven years. Before the ban went into effect, the student body governments across the city earned $214,000 in profits, which goes to support school athletics and clubs. This year they’ve earned only $17,000.
Michael DeBell, Seattle School Board president told MSNBC that they may have to relax their junk food ban:
The question is did we go too far? If the students aren’t finding the offerings to their liking, then we’re not really meeting that goal of having them choose healthier foods.
And even though DeBell said they would try to keep a variety of healthy items in the vending machines (like a healthy ice cream sandwich), they also want to avoid candy, chips and soda (things that teens would want to purchase). But with stricter federal laws about to take effect under the new Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, schools across the country may not have much choice about the foods they offer students.
The new federal law goes into effect in 2013 and will require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop nutrition standards for vending machine foods and other foods sold during the school day. The goal is to make more fruits, vegetables and whole grains available, but if the kids aren’t eating them, then everybody loses.
As a mother with a son in middle school and one in high school, I have seen first-hand the struggles that the public schools have with budgets. Parents are constantly bombarded with fundraisers and kids are paying the price with sports and other after-school clubs being cut. And realistically, the kids still eat the junk food. They either bring their own, stop at the convenience store on the way to school, and/or eat it when they get home. But in the meantime, they are losing important sports programs, which is only making them more unhealthy. So they’re eating the junk and having less opportunities to exercise. And personally, I think playing sports is more important than consuming some Cheetos and a Coke from time to time.
Here is what I propose: Sell the junk food in the vending machines in limited quantities and still offer healthier options too. Then spend more time educating the students about moderation and making smarter eating choices and hope they will continue spending money while buying the healthier foods–at least some of the time. Then everybody wins.