By Jennifer Nelson, M.S., R.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D.
To boost student performance, some schools have declared themselves “sugar-free” — meaning they don’t allow sugar-laden foods, such as cookies, candies, birthday treats or sweet drinks. Some of these schools report not only improved school performance but also a decrease in disciplinary actions. The evidence supporting these results is mixed, but who can argue with reducing the sugar in kids’ diets?
Well, some parents dislike being told what they can and can’t pack in their children’s lunchboxes. And I’ll admit that I have some mixed feelings on the issue too.
Childhood obesity is an enormous problem, but diet is only part of the solution. We need to teach kids and families how to make healthy lifestyle choices about diet — and about physical activity. Children need to understand how daily physical activity fits into a healthy lifestyle, but unfortunately recess and physical education classes are being squeezed out of many schools.
Meals offered at school (or brought from home) need to be healthy and well balanced. But I don’t see the harm in allowing cupcakes on someone’s birthday as part of the celebration. Kids need to know that all foods can fit into a healthy diet when moderation is practiced. They need practice making healthy choices.
Funding for schools is limited, which further complicates the issue. Some schools feel forced into contracts with commercial food and vending companies to reduce costs or bring money into the schools. Constant access to such foods and beverages can promote unhealthy choices.
Parents, teachers and school administrators: Where do you stand on this issue? Do you have firsthand experience with sugar-free schools? What results have you seen? What do your children think? How do we get around the funding obstacles?