Taking away junk food is not the solution

Marc Zozak

U-Wire Columnist The Daily Vidette Illinois State University

Little Billy Martin, a 4th grader at your local grade school, has had a tough day. He got a frownie face sticker on his social studies quiz. He got picked last for kickball. Some anonymous O’Doyle-esque ruffian shoved him in a locker.

Billy needs to unwind, or he’s not going to make it until 3:05. He asks the teacher for a hall pass, and slowly trudges toward the little boy’s room. A whisper breaks his visual death-grip on the ground.

“Hey, kid. Want some candy?”

Billy recognized him instantly. Seventh grader Tyler Hawkins has been king of the junk food black market ever since they banned soda and candy in schools.

Billy’s eyes widened as they focused on the mountain of chocolate bars in the locker. He knew he shouldn’t be talking to Tyler. He knew the candy was bad for him, but times were tough, and it would help the hours pass.

Billy took a deep breath and wiped the tears from his eyes.

“Two Snickers bars,” he whimpered. “And a Pepsi.”

Schools around the nation can expect to see scenes like this play out if a recently introduced bill to reduce junk food in schools is approved.

The bill would require any food and drinks sold on campuses, including in vending machines, meet the same federal nutritional standards as food served in the cafeteria.

Some states, such as California, have banned soda from elementary schools.

I don’t have to list a bunch of stats to tell you that America is fat and getting fatter. Supporters of anti-junk food bills see this as a way to cut obesity off before it begins.

“Junk food sales in schools are out of control,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa, said Thursday.

“It undercuts our investment in school meal programs and steers kids toward a future of obesity and diet-related disease.”

“When parents send their kids to school with lunch money, they shouldn’t have to worry that the money will be spent on Flaming Cheetos and a Coke instead of on a balanced meal,” Margo G. Wootan, the center’s director of nutrition policy said.

While these laws have good intentions, I don’t see them being successful. Remember when you were a kid and someone told you that you couldn’t have something? You found a way to get it anyway, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen here.

These laws can’t prevent kids bringing sweets from home, off-campus, or simply eating a bathtub’s worth of Skittles at home.

In addition, what kind of message are we sending to the kids? Instead of teaching them how to make decisions about what to eat, we’re simply telling them what they can’t eat, which is retroactive in the realm of decision making.

Not to mention the loss of revenue, for both the school and major soda vendors. Vending machines are found in so many schools because the school gets money from each sale, in contracts that are worked out with vendors like Pepsi or Coca-Cola. No soda sales equals tens of thousands of dollars lost per school per year. Those sums not only buy supplies such as paper and pencils, but also underwrite extracurricular activities. Vendor contracts are negotiated on a school-by-school basis.

What about student organizations? Remember being in the student council or the reading club? How are you going to have fund-raisers without soda or chocolate bars?

My grade schools’ largest fund-raiser was the annual chocolate bar extravaganza. No one can resist the awesome selling power of an adorable child showing up at your door selling candy bars. Are we going to tell kids they can sell it, but not eat it? Or even worse, switch to boring sales items like wrapping paper or cosmetics?

Today, candy, pop and other snacks are sold in nine out of 10 schools, according to the Government Accountability Office. While this number is sure to go down in the coming months, it’s still unclear as to whether or not any visible effect will occur.

I guess, at the very least, schools can sit back and say they’re not to blame for childhood obesity, and honestly, that’s probably all they care about. Putting all the attention on food alone doesn’t necessarily improve inactivity in kids.