Thursday, September 22, 2005

Editorial: Give them food

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (Sep 22, 2005): Young people need good food to help them grow up to be healthy, strong adults. It’s up to adults to give them that food, and to help steer them away from unhealthy choices.

The Scarborough Board of Education has temporarily suspended a state requirement that all food served on school grounds meet some qualifications as minimally nutritious.

And while that’s fine for a very short period of time, the board should, as it plans to, review the food served on school grounds and at school functions, with an eye toward making the available choices good for kids.

The board has suspended the rule, recently imposed by the state, to avoid surprising booster groups for sports teams and extra-curricular groups, who often sell candy and baked treats to raise money, and have likely bought sugary goodies to sell at games and activities.

In the past, some groups in town have even sold Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts to raise money.

And while the money goes to a good cause, the food should, too. Schools and school groups should not be in the business of selling goodies of negligible nutritional value.

What’s defined as non-nutritious food is quite lenient. A food must provide at least 5 percent of the federally recommended daily intake of at least one of eight nutrients: protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, calcium and iron.

Anything that provides less than 5 percent of all of those nutrients is fairly called “junk food,” and is not what adults should be serving children, no matter the setting.

The guidelines, as Dr. Lisa Letourneau of the Scarborough Wellness Initiative notes in a Page 1 article, still allow some chips and candy bars to be sold in schools.

School meal programs started in Europe in the 1700s, and moved to the United States in the 1800s, with the idea of providing children at least one nutritious meal each day.

That is still a vitally important goal, and should not be forgotten, especially with childhood obesity at an all-time high and rising. Our kids are unhealthy, and we need to fix the problem, not point fingers at others.

Adults in all venues – home, school, jobs and after-school activities – are responsible for helping children grow up healthy.

Schools are an important factor in this because they are places communities send their children to learn good habits, smart ways to approach the world and positive behaviors that will help them be productive members of society as adults.

The goal of school lunch programs should not be to provide children with junk food, nor to make money for the school. It is also questionable whether school lunch programs should be required to pay for themselves, as is the case in Scarborough and common elsewhere.

The school lunch programs should focus on providing healthy, nutritious foods at a reasonable cost.

If children – or parents – want food other than what a school provides, they can provide it with their own money from supermarkets or other stores. It may cause a loss in revenue for schools, but lunch should be about nourishing children’s bodies in an environment that also enriches their minds.

The same goes for food sales by school-related programs, like booster clubs. The clubs exist for the benefit of children. If good food won't raise the money they need, perhaps the boosters could look to the dozens of local organizations that raise money without selling food for ideas, such as craft sales, event programs and raffles.

While candy is a sure seller, that’s part of the problem, not part of the solution. The Scarborough school board should ban non-nutritious food sales by school lunches, boosters and other groups using school facilities.

Jeff Inglis, editor