Wonderful New Federal Laws Ban Junk Food In Schools

vending-machine-junkI love a good chocolate bar or Cheez-It from time to time, but I’m very happy that these new regulations passed Thursday about junk food in schools — with surprising bipartisan agreement.

The New York Times reports:

The Agriculture Department on Thursday effectively banned the sale of snack foods like candy, cookies and sugary drinks, including sports drinks, in schools, making it harder for students to avoid the now-healthier school meals by eating snacks sold in vending machines.

The new rules were required under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was passed by Congress in 2010 with broad bipartisan support. The law, supported by Michelle Obama and drafted with an unusual level of cooperation between nutrition advocates and the food industry, required the Agriculture Department to set nutritional standards for all foods sold in schools.

This seems like a great way to complement healthy eating habits at home, or also offset some of the negative habits children may be learning from their parents. I feel fortunate that my mom invested loads of time and effort into providing regular, healthy meals for me. She planted habits that I still have a tough time breaking — no sweet stuff or snacks before a meal, make sure to eat a hearty breakfast, try not to eat an ass-load of food before bed. I acquired a few bad habits and negative body image stuff from my parents, too, but overall I think they did a wonderful job of shaping me into a health-conscious adult.

But while I exercised willpower around junk at home, I wasn’t remotely immune to the allure of the junk at school. I memorized the location of every vending machine in my high school, and I went through a phase where I bought a package of peanut M&Ms every day around ten to eat during pre-calc and tide me over until lunch. Math is way better with chocolate involved anyway, amirite? But eating chocolate at ten in the morning wasn’t something I would ever, ever, ever do at home. So I imagine if this law had been in effect during my high school years, it would have never occurred to me to bring junk food from home to eat during math class. I would’ve just sat there and dealt with it, I guess!

I know these laws aren’t going to be the childhood obesity cure-all some of the media seems to think it is. But I feel like it can only be a step in a positive direction, right?

(photo: Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock)

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  • Justme

    The vending machines in my school are not turned on during the school day – only after school for about 15 minutes. There is only water sold – no sodas or sports drinks.

  • ChopChick

    Fun fact: you’re mixing up your laws and your rules.

    The Department of Agriculture passed a new rule–based on a law passed by Congress. So there is no wonderful new law, just a wonderful new rule based on an interpretation of a law that is a handful of years old. I wouldn’t nitpick except that you attributed it to bipartisanship, but that bipartisanship was from 2010, not from right now.
    Take it as your Administrative Law lesson of the day!

    • Lastango

      Ooooo…. some expert input! Always appreciated!

      In this case, it’s doubly valuable for reminding us of the power of regulatory agencies to use administrative and financial leverage to expand by meddling in matters far beyond their jurisdictions. When a state starts taking federal lunch program money, it eventually de facto forfeits its ability to make its own choices. From the federal perspective, that was always the true goal.agency

  • Lastango

    “I know these laws aren’t going to be the childhood obesity cure-all some
    of the media seems to think it is. But I feel like it can only be a
    step in a positive direction, right?”

    Maybe not even a step. I feel like it’s an evasion, and a substitute for real action on what we ought to (but aren’t ready to) think of as “obesity culture”. Said another way, we’re blaming the food instead of ourselves. These days, we never fault ourselves for anything. That would be some variety of “shaming”. So we fault snacks and pop instead. It’s much easier. A look at any school group photo from the 1950′s or 1960′s would show there were almost no obese people, and very few overweight people. It’s pure escapism to believe the change from then is because schools now have vending machines with junk food.

    • SusannahJoy

      Obviously the goal is to teach kids to eat healthy, but it’s harder to do that when they’re surrounded by junk food. “Hey kids! Eat fruit! Want to buy a chocolate bar or soda?” Yeah, having vending machines in schools didnt magically make everyone fat, but they sure aren’t helping anyone get healthy either.

    • xve298

      For many it means they are hungry much of the time. “healthy” food is not always satisfying nor enough calories fro after school activities. Those who go straight home might eat a lot sooner.

    • SusannahJoy

      Healthy doesn’t have to be low calorie. If the vending machines only have fruit, bring some peanut butter to dip it in. Peanut butter is dirt cheap, and very nutritionally dense. I don’t get where we got this idea that “healthy” means “diet food” which means “tasteless or no fat/calories.” You want some chocolate? Awesome, chocolate is great! But why does a kid need a full candy bar as a snack? They make little ones. The choice is not between celery, chips, or nothing. There’s a lot more food out there.

  • A-nony-mous

    I’m all for healthy food in schools, especially in the cafeterias. But I think if there’s healthy food in a cafeteria there’s nothing wrong with a vending machine or two with alternative treats. Removing everything via government fatwa against ‘junk food’ feels like an over-reaching nanny state, especially given the myriad of other issues which should probably be taking precedent instead of blaming the vending machine for the fat kids being fat. It’s also a little frustrating that no one can now have treats just because SOME kids are fat. Why does everyone basically have to go on a health kick diet just because someone else’s parents are irresponsible?

    • SusannahJoy

      So send your kid to school with chips and all the junk food they could ask. No one is saying you can’t do that.

    • A-nony-mous

      Of course. There’s always an alternative. That’s beyond the point of whether it should’ve been done in the first place. Do people seriously need the government to actually remove items and tell them what to eat? Is that what we’re paying the government to do? Doesn’t it have better things to focus on? Especially since it’s always complaining that it doesn’t have enough money for basically anything and constantly cutting things. We can’t afford Medicaid but we can afford to have big sessions and legislation over vending machines in high schools? Priorities anyone? Is removing vending machines really going to be effective when most children are obese because their parents don’t make them exercise at all and take them to fast food several times a week or more?

    • xve298

      Actually the article does not say that. But another article says they did back down of parties in school. But so many schools do not allow food from home.

  • http://www.facebook.com/valerisexton.jones Valeri Jones

    I’ll probably get yelled at a lot for this, but I just can’t get behind this. My teenage sons eat hearty breakfasts at home and then eat their lunches at school, but they are growing boys! They’re bottomless pits! We send them with extra money to buy snacks out of the vending machines between classes so they aren’t starving before their after school activities. If not for these machines, they wouldn’t eat until after 6 pm. But they always get things like chips or peanut butter crackers or something like that. Even if they did get M&Ms or whatever, I wouldn’t care. I’m just happy that they can get something to eat.

    • xve298

      The nanny government does not care. They are on a ill fated crusade and are deaf and dumb concerning kids real needs.

    • SusannahJoy

      Right, the government is totally overstepping by saying that there shouldnt be vending machines selling crap that we know is really bad for you and is a factor in the vastly expensive obesity epidemic in the government funded schools. And seriously? Seriously you’re going to tell me that real kids NEED junk food? No! They don’t! No one does!! If your kid isnt getting enough calories with the meals you sent them with, then give them some snacks! I don’t understand why that’s so difficult. How are you opposed to giving kids healthy food?

    • xve298

      Calories are calories if they are hungry the they are hungry satisfying eats are better that being hungry with the accompanying behavioral problems.

    • sasareta

      Junk food isn’t healthy. pack extra whole foods int their lunches.

    • mcbirdie

      Are you of the impression that going for six hours without eating will kill the average teenager? Or that it is impossible to send your children to school with a snack already prepared? Or even that it is just as likely that these vending machines will now be stocked with healthier snack options?

      I feel like there must be at least a few misconceptions churning around to have someone think that this isn’t a positive step–particularly in light of all the scientific studies which have shown that the presence of these snack foods makes it diabolically harder to not want to consume more food than is needed–and instead to bemoan the fact that now her kids won’t be able to have some chips in the day.

    • http://www.facebook.com/valerisexton.jones Valeri Jones

      It may not kill them, but they will get terrible headaches and be extremely grouchy after doing their after school activity (which is jui jitzu class) without eating. I’ve tried packing them healthy snacks before, and they will eat those and still go for the vending machines anyway. And these days, my husband I work so much that it’s so much easier to hand them a couple of dollars each and send them on their way.

      You must be under the impression that teenagers do what they’re told all the time.

      My kids are extremely healthy. I don’t give a single flying f*** if they choose to get a pack of M&Ms out of the vending machines every day because they eat healthy at home and they work out every single day for two hours after school.

      I’m just so tired of people saying it’s the school’s responsibility to make sure kids are making healthy decisions and behaving themselves all the time. Why not try instilling good nutritional value and respectful manners in them AT HOME before sending them to school?

  • xve298

    At least theybacked of parties ,after school ,and other activities which now can have sodas,candy,pastries!

  • allie

    Personally I think all this just makes kids more neurotic about food. I understand at the grade school level wanting to help guide choices but by high school those habits are already in place. Older kids just know to get the snacks they want elsewhere. Its not changing anything and I don’t think depriving them of food choices is a good idea either. I know for myself, sometimes I want a candy bar, sometimes I want fruit, sometimes granola, sometimes chips….why can’t we just teach moderation to kids and to learn from your bodies cues? Teach them to be active and realize hey, I can have a treat but not too many. That’s what we teach at home and we have five athletic, healthy weight kids. Also, people need to realize that the calorie intake for kids and teens, especially active kids and teens is DRASTICALLY higher than adults. Teen and adolescent boys can burn more than most adults in a day, a candy bar isn’t going to hurt them once in a while.

    I would rather see more schools have active time for kids than making them nuts about every piece of food that goes into their mouths. That’s when problems arise.

  • Victoria Gaunt

    How are children supposed to be taught to make healthy choices when that choice is taken away from them? Not only that, but it’s not the government’s business what I eat! Those little butt-trumpets can mind their own business.

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