NY Times: The Food Police Debate

Last week's New York Times article Well-Intentioned Food Police May Create Havoc With Children's Diets raised questions about the role schools play in fostering healthy eating habits in kids. The issue fueled multi-sided debate in this week's letters to the editor.

Some respondents support the intent of the measures mentioned in the piece. Seemingly adopting the "every little bit helps" point of view:

Too many food rules and restrictions at school can certainly backfire if they cause children to compensate later in the day by overeating or seeking out highly palatable foods like soda and pizza that they have limited or no access to while at school. But we can't just sit back, as the author suggests, and watch our kids balloon in size.


The least we can do is limit nutrient-poor foods and provide more fresh fruits, vegetables and other nutritious foods and include programs and activities to increase physical activity. These small steps can at the very least help fuel children's bodies and give them energy to run faster and throw the ball farther.

Elisa Zied, Manhattan

This mindset undoubtedly shows concern for the health of our children, but others advocate taking action merely for the sake of taking action isn't wise. Contending that many of these solutions risk doing more harm than good:

It's an outrage that schools will post body mass index on report cards. I have friends who have struggled with anorexia and bulimia, and seeing their B.M.I.'s four times a year can make them much more self-conscious and exacerbate their eating disorders.

Eric Schleien, Larchmont, N.Y.

Developing bad eating habits early in life is dangerous. We've all heard, "You are what you eat." So using a little common sense, one would assume children with poor eating habits grow up to become unhealthy adults with poor eating habits. Seems logical, right?

Last week DiseaseProof explained Dr. Fuhrman's approach to getting kids to eat healthier. He explained it's important not to coax children to eat better, but instead to surround them with healthy high-nutrient food. This way children will gravitate to healthy diets on their own, without adults hanging over their shoulders making them feel guilty about this or that thing they're eating. This concept does not fall on deaf ears:

Thank you for finally printing a much-needed and sensible reply to the rampant obsession with childhood obesity ("Food Police"). Children are naturally able to regulate their own hungers and appetites, and I share the writer's concern about the ramifications of the current notion that there should be stringent rules and regulations placed on children's diets.


Although bulimia and anorexia get the spotlight among eating disorders, overeating is itself a disorder that should not be disregarded. Perhaps we should look to see what voids exist in the lives of today's children that are causing them to seek comfort and fulfillment in food, rather than planting the seeds of further lifelong problems.

Anne Throdahl, N.Y.

Another respondent claims the key is to teach kids proper nutrition:

Contrary to Harriet Brown's assertion, it is possible for school-based programs to prevent both obesity and eating disorders. A 2005 Harvard study of a comprehensive obesity prevention program found that teaching children about healthful eating and physical activity actually led to lower rates of disordered eating.


Further, the hypothesis that removing unhealthy snacks at school causes a rebound effect at home is unsupported. In a 2005 Yale study, unhealthful snacks were removed from elementary and middle schools, and children did not compensate by eating more of these snacks at home.

Children see the hypocrisy of teaching nutrition in the classroom and selling junk food down the hall. Nearly everywhere, children are surrounded by cheap, heavily marketed high-fat and high-sugar foods with negligible nutritional value. But schools can be a haven. It's time to extend nutrition education into the lunchroom, and surround children with healthful foods to enjoy.

Marlene B. Schwartz, New Haven

On what side of the dicussion do you fall? Do you believe that childhood obesity has gotten so out of hand that any attempt (with in reason) to control it is worthwhile or will the proposed measures do more harm than good? Good ahead, light up the comments!

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Leanne - June 7, 2006 12:24 AM

The responsibility lies not just in teaching kids, but in teaching adults. And the whole community needs to embrace healthy eating, or no amount of book learning will work.

There's absolutely no point in being taught nutritional education that is in step with government propaganda if all it does is cause obesity and illness. The current government recommendations fall far short of teaching great health and excellent nutrition, and are instead little more than a marketing ground for various lobby groups to sell their wares under the guise of government sanctioned nutritional guidelines.

Likewise, kids may be taught to eat lots of plant foods at school, but the impact they have at home is small, especially when ill-educated, harried, and overworked parents feed them non-stop junk and animal products, and this diet is backed up by streaming advertising and media campaigns.

Excellent nutrition will only win where a consistent message is received by kids from schools, parents and the media the kids are exposed to. If parents cannot control media advertising, the logical and responsible thing to do is to switch off the television, and explain to their kids why.

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