School junk food ban must be extended, claims campaigner

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Junk food, Nutrition

The food industry has been hammered for making children overweight,
but one Californian parent believes that banning junk food in
schools is redundant unless another legal loophole is dealt with.

For while junk food and soft drinks may be being phased out in many elementary schools, parents are still free to bring in snacks for their children, and others, to consume.

"Overweight children are already self-conscious enough,"​ said Fred Hayward, a parent who blames his 11-year-old son's weight on other parents bringing in junk food while he was still at elementary school.

"It is unreasonable to expect them to draw more attention to themselves by being the only one in their class to decline this free junk food."

Haywards' complaint is that the right of other parents to bring in such food is given precedence over his right to feed his child responsibly. In essence, the issue goes right to the heart of where individual parental rights should end, and of course whether states have any business interfering in such matters.

But then, educational authorities are already beginning to dictate what can and can't be eaten in school. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is pushing ahead with legislation that would extend the ban on soft drinks in elementary schools to high schools, claiming that the state's children are facing an obesity epidemic.

" We need to get parents, teachers, children, schools and our state on the same page to meet this challenge head on,"​ he said recently. "The Healthy Schools Now Act will improve school nutrition by removing junk food and sodas from our public schools."

Twenty-one states have now passed laws to restrict vending machines that serve soft drinks and sweets.

The reason for such interference is that, as with other states, California is facing an epidemic. Californians have gained 360 million pounds in the last 10 years. More than half of the state's adults are overweight or obese and more than a quarter of California's students are overweight, placing California's rate of childhood obesity higher than the national average.

This is why Hayward cannot understand why lawmakers seem so reluctant to tackle the issue of junk food being brought in to schools. "When I began my one-man crusade against pushing junk food on children in school, I had thought it was a 'no-brainer,'"​ he told FoodNavigator-USA.com."I had thought they would jump at a chance to correct this loophole.

"After all, health advocates were standing up to well-paid lobbyists of multi-billion dollar corporations and confronting financially strapped school systems that depend on the sale of junk food for revenue. This, on the other hand, was an opportunity to significantly lower the consumption of junk food without organized opposition or financial cost."

However it is clear that any proposed regulation banning food brought in by parents would face significant opposition from parents' rights groups. Indeed, some states such as Connecticut have even vetoed school nutrition bills on the grounds that it is up to local districts and parents to decide what students should eat, not educational boards or even federal government.

But Hayward is adamant that he has a case to make.

"I am told that this is a 'parents' rights' issue,"​ he counters. "Yet, these are not really parents giving junk food to their own children. Rather, these are strangers giving junk food to my children."

Hayward's campaign underlines growing concern over the issue of childhood obesity. In the two months prior to the launch of the USDA's My Pyramid for Kids scheme on 28 September, the California Olive Industry conducted a survey on the subject.

Some 97 percent of respondents reported that they were aware of the issue, with 35 percent indicating they had a child who is overweight. Seventy-seven percent believe the problem of overweight children in their neighborhood has increased over the past five years.

Related topics: Regulation

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