Thursday, December 6, 2007

Speaking of corporate interests in kids' eating habits ...

Straight A’s, With a Burger as a Prize. Over at the New York Times, Stuart Elliott talks about a Florida arrangement in which McDonald's gives kids free food in exchange for good report cards. They send report cards home in paper sleeves with information and advertising about the McDonald's reward program. It's criticized as just one more way that corporations are advertising to children in order to build life-long "brand loyalty." Interestingly, only one parent had complained at the time the article was written. (They also mention that they had no complaints when Pizza Hut gave away free personal pan pizzas as reward for good grades in an earlier promotion.)

Nutritionists and others warn against using food as rewards, under the argument that obesity is often about emotional eating, or eating in response to the need for comfort or the idea that we've "earned it" and that these responses may be influenced by eating patterns learned in childhood.

Digesting the News at Gristmill

Ann Cooper, Berkeley Unified School District's "Renegade Lunch Lady", and Kate Adamick, a school food consultant based in New York, have teamed up to analyze the links between various food news items that have come up in the past week or so. They conclude that corporations have far too much power in the policy debates around school food. Their post is over at Gristmill, the green blog at The school-lunch dog fight: In the clash over school lunches, who's watching out for the kids?

While we all know that corporate interests are at play in school food practice, especially when it comes to "a la carte" or "competitive" foods sold outside the main school lunches, it is worth reading their opinions about the various groups at the table influencing decisionmaking.

It is nice to know that school food issues have reached the level of public awareness that it's regularly in the news and federal regulation over school food nutrition is controversial even among healthy or sustainable food advocates. The stronger the debate, the better the resulting policies!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

British Targeting Pre-schoolers and Teens with Healthy Eating Initiatives

The Guardian reported recently that British programs are now beginning to focus on children under five years old to develop healthy eating habits early. Here's the story: A look at the kids' menu.

An earlier Observer article noted that the UK government is launching an advertising campaign linking healthy eating with success at sports, in an effort to increase student participation in school lunch programs: School meals campaign to target teenagers. This is in response to a study that reported that schools were serving healthier meals, but that in 19 of 26 schools, fewer students were eating school lunches because they didn't like them.

Jamie Oliver, the celebrity chef frequently credited with starting Britain's school food revolution (though in fact change was already happening in various places), blames underfunding and slow implementation for the poor uptake of healthier school meals, saying that kitchen staff training and kitchen facilities have not been put into place as they should have been. Oliver blames government for dinners failure.

Efforts to Govern School Snack Standards at the Federal Level

New York Times writer Kim Severson has written an article about the Farm Bill Amendment to define standards for snacks and drinks sold in schools: Effort to Limit Junk Food in Schools Faces Hurdles. Even if the Farm Bill doesn't pass, or passes without the amendment addressing foods sold outside the lunch program, sponsors say they will push to get it passed in some other way. The measure is controversial in that some think it is a good starting place for improving food in schools, and others wanting stronger measures and fewer exemptions for things like sports drinks. One of the touchiest issues is this:

"Although states would not be able to pass stronger restrictions, individual school districts could."
In different places, the battle to improve school food happens at different levels of decisionmaking, often based on where the climate is friendliest for change. If state legislatures are ready to take a stand on school food, they may be the place to enact the strictest rules on healthy food standards. In many places, schools or school districts may be where progress is being made. So the limitation of state power will be more problematic in some places than others. Though, as noted in the article, school district decisionmaking may also be affected by federal guidelines:
“My little fights in school districts are just going to be harder and harder because they’ll say, Well, here are the federal guidelines,” said Dr. Susan Rubin of Chappaqua, N.Y., a nutritionist who helped found the Better School Food advocacy group.
Any thoughts about how this will affect your efforts at improving school food?