School Cupcakes: Latest Target of 'Food Police'?

Thursday, 03 Oct 2013 05:05 PM

By Nick Tate

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Nutrition experts are setting their sights on a new target they are vilifying as a dietary evil: Cupcakes served in school classroom parties.

In a new study published online in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago suggest implementing school "cupcake bans" can significantly reduce the amount of sugary, high-calorie fatty foods children consume in the course of a school year.
 
Previous small-scale studies have found that "kids consume a lot of calories at classroom parties," said Lindsey Turner, lead author of the study and research scientist at UIC's Institute for Health Research and Policy.

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"This is an overlooked aspect of the school food environment, and an important issue to address," said Turner, who noted restrictions on classroom celebrations have often been met with controversy and resistance from parents and the community, and "changing norms will take time."
 
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued nationwide standards for foods and beverages in schools as required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. However, the USDA regulations do not address foods and beverages served during school parties. Federal statistics show that nearly 1 in 3 American children are overweight or obese.
 
Turner's research examined state laws, district, and school-level policies for classroom birthday and holiday parties. More than 1,200 elementary schools in 47 states responded to surveys during the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years.
 
The results showed schools with a district policy or state law discouraging sugary foods and beverages were 2.5 times more likely to restrict those foods at parties than were schools with no such policy or law.
 
Approximately half the schools had either no restrictions or left the decision to teachers; one-third had school-wide policies discouraging sugary items; and fewer than 10 percent actually banned sweets during holiday parties or did not allow parties.
 
National recommendations include limiting parties to one per month; serving only healthy foods, offering non-food items in goody-bags, and having party activities that do not involve food.
 
The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
 
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