Some folks might equate it to an attack on motherhood, the flag and apple pie.
They unintentionally touched on the problem. Americans are a little too fond of apple pie. And doughnuts. And cakes, pastries, cream sauces, milk shakes, ice cream, cookies and other foods that taste good, but are bad for you.
Judging by national test scores, American kids aren’t getting smarter. But they are getting larger. There are more than twice as many obese kids today than 30 years ago, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Christopher Walsh took a small but significant stand against the obesity epidemic. This school year, the principal of Highland Elementary School in Derby banned cupcakes from in-class birthday celebrations. The kids still can party on, as reported in Thursday’s Buffalo News, but it has to be with fruit, lower-sugar yogurt and other healthier choices.
One small step against overeating, one giant leap for common sense.
“Kids form habits when they’re young,” Walsh told me. “We’re trying to help them form better habits.”
I applaud Walsh for drawing – with a carrot stick, no doubt – a line in the sugar-ingestion sand. I have no illusion that an in-class cupcake ban will turn a nation of ever-larger kids into fruit-chompers and veggie-munchers. But by doing what he can to reverse the tide, by putting an institutional stamp on healthier eating, he may prompt some snack-ready kids to grab an apple instead of a cookie. Those sort of fit-for-fat switches are, in fact, a foundation of Weight Watchers and other pound-dropping programs.
If Walsh’s cupcake ban alters the bad-snack habits of even one kid, it’s worth it. Nearly 1 of every 3 American kids and teens carry extra baggage, the CDC said. Americans, in general, are getting as super-sized as their soft drinks.
Classroom birthday parties rocking baked goods are just the icing on the cupcake. The celebrate-with-sugar tradition extends into every office building. Folks typically don’t bring in a basket of apples to share. Instead it’s a box of doughnuts, a cake, a plate of cookies.
I am not dissing the generosity behind the gestures. Full disclosure: I have never turned my back on a homemade chocolate chip cookie. But we are an alarmingly sedentary society, nailed to our chairs and couches by everything from flat-screen TVs to computers, Netflix to Facebook. The food industry mass manufactures appealing – and possibly addictive – sugar- and fat-stuffed goodies. Work/family demands prompt parents to grab fast-food fries and burgers instead of cooking at home.
There is a bigger food picture here, and that innocent-looking, celebratory cupcake is part of it. Walsh, in fact, was moved to action when the district weighed in heavy on the obesity scale in a state health department report.
“One thing we can control is teaching kids to make healthier choices,” Walsh said. “We’re backing up our words with actions.”
Walsh went to classrooms in September, explaining the policy to little protest from the kids. He got some push-back at a parent-teacher association meeting, but made it clear: He would never tell parents what to pack in school lunches or how to celebrate birthdays at home. But the in-class cupcake was out.
“I was a little taken aback,” said Corey Schultz, whose son is a fourth-grader at Highland. “But the more I thought about it, the more I was behind it. It’s just about a healthier choice in the classroom.”
Call it a blow for motherhood, the flag and fruit cups.