Life in Balance

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Yahoo! News Canada: Toronto School Bans Junk Food Snacks From Students’ Lunch Bags

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This article is reposted from:

Author:  | Daily Brew – Thu, 17 Oct, 2013

The battle over nutrition for young people has escalated in one Toronto school, where kids now are banned from bringing any junk food in their packed lunches.

The new policy at James S. Bell Junior Middle School in suburban Etobicoke, which covers grades one to nine, now bars students from bringing snacks like chocolate, candy, pop and chips. Only fresh, healthy foods will be allowed,CTV News reports.

Even granola bars are verboten as an everyday snack, although they’re apparently allowed on special occasions such as holidays. Granola bars? The high levels of sugar, salt and other dodgy ingredients make them dubious health snacks, as the Globe and Mail noted a few years back.

“If we do find something like a box of Smarties or a KitKat bar … we will just kindly ask the student to take it home,” school principal John Currie told CTV News.

Just how are they going to enforce this?

I have visions of kids queuing up at the school entrance each morning waiting for their lunch bags to be checked, as if they were at the airport. Will their be monitors patrolling the lunch room and playgrounds at recess looking for contraband Mars Bars? Hopefully it’s more benign.

Ontario and other provinces already have policies to ban junk food from school cafeteria menus and snack vending machines as concern rises about sedentary kids’ growing waistlines.

Ontario teacher Paul Finkelstein, in an 2009 article posted on, noted voluntary guidelines don’t work, especially when it comes to snack machines. Although education is a provincial responsibility, he recommended lobbying for national nutrition standards for schools.

Ontario passed the Healthy Food for Schools Act, which took effect in 2011. Among other things, it mandated low levels of trans fats in food and drinks provided in schools and set nutritional standards for snacks dispensed from vending machines.

Not everyone’s on board. Some educators and parents believe it’s not the school system’s job to enforce good nutrition.

“It’s the school’s responsibility to encourage healthy living, that’s, after all, why we have physical education,” Doretta Wilson, executive director of the Society for Quality Education and a parent in Toronto, told the Globe and Mail last year.

“But legislating what kids can eat in schools and measuring their BMI [body-mass index] is starting to cross that line into the responsibility of parents.”

A similar effort in the Calgary public school system, which took effect last year, also met with skepticism.

“We have to model good behavior and part of that is to remove things that are unhealthy and we’re poised to do that in January,” superintendent Naomi Johnson told CBC News in 2011 as the transition to a healthy-snacks-only regime began.

But some Calgary parents noted schools get revenue from vending-machine sales and might not welcome the anticipated drop in sales if only fruit juices and packs of carrot strips were offered.

James S. Bell might be something of a special case. Last year it was transformed into a sports and wellness academy, one of the Toronto District School Board’s alternative schools. Its program emphasizes physical fitness.

The Globe noted each student is guaranteed 150 minutes of physical activity a week and offers breakfast and hot lunch programs. Kids who don’t have enough vegetables on their plate are sent back to the cafeteria line for more, Currie told the Globe.

So presumably parents who send their kids to James S. Bell will be predisposed to support the new rules. That’s not necessarily true in other schools.

Experts who spoke to the Globe last year stressed that parents are the biggest factor in determining the eating habits of children. They’re often too busy to micromanage their kids’ diet, sometimes through ignorance or lack of money don’t buy the fresh but expensive foods considered most nutritious and may be obese themselves.

Children who don’t buy into the healthy-foods mantra have plenty of options if their school bans junk snacks from their lunch bags, the easiest being the convenience store just down the street.


National Eating Disorders Information Centre (NEDIC) Blog response to the above article:

Banning Junk Food, Creating Unhealthy Mindsets

Posted on October 28, 2013 by 

James S. Bell Junior Middle School in Toronto has banned “junk food” from lunches. Students who bring items such as candy or even granola bars will be asked to take the items back home. The reasoning behind this decision is that the school styles itself as a “sports and wellness academy”. They further reinforce these values by sending kids back to the cafeteria line if they do not have enough vegetables on their plate. Although the general population may perceive these initiatives as positive and healthy – they do not sit well with me. I believe that they reinforce the idea that junk food is “bad” and doesn’t have a place in a healthy balanced diet. This is not true.

Reading this story reminded me of the rules at the adult eating disorders program at North York General Hospital (NYGH). We would eat dinner together as a group and the highly qualified treatment team (made up of two social workers, a psychologist, and a nutritionist) would inspect our meals to see if they were nutritionally balanced – and believe it or not, it was mandatory that our dinners always included a serving of dessert. I was shocked and upset when I was first asked to eat a chocolate bar with dinner as I firmly believed that it didn’t fall within the confines a healthy diet. However, through treatment, I finally learned what truly constitutes a healthy balanced diet (hint: the key word is balanced). Although junk foods may contain high levels of fat and sugar and are not nutritious per se, eating a measured serving/portion once in a while is healthy. Especially at a school where children are doing 2.5 hours of physical activity a day! Surviving on “healthy” foods alone is not a positive attitude towards eating.

Labelling foods as good and bad for children in grades 1 to 9 will only serve to create negative attitudes towards physical health and wellness. It also creates an aura and mystique around “bad” foods and will likely lead to children sneaking and bingeing on junk food. With secretive eating also comes a feeling of shame – an undesirable side-effect since children are emotionally vulnerable and still developing their core self-esteem and body image. It is positive if children are asked to eat the correct serving of vegetables with their meal, but if they are encouraged to fill up on extra vegetables because they are hungry and not allowed to eat bread – then that is not healthy. It’s dangerous to put so much emphasis on “good” foods at a time when children are still physically growing (eating disorders are known to cause stunted growth). It’s important that children have a healthy mindset.

My recommendation to the school would be to encourage students to have healthier attitudes towards junk food i.e. rather than ban it outright and brand it as a “forbidden fruit”, encourage its consumption in proper servings/portion sizes so that treats are viewed as an ordinary “sometimes” food. At the hospital we didn’t even call it junk food; rather we used the term “high energy food” (which sounds a lot more positive). Creating positive eating attitudes in our youth will help them grow into strong, healthy, and energetic adults and may help mitigate the growth of eating disorders.

Link to Story:

Priyanka Parshad started volunteering with NEDIC in February 2012 after she recovered from an eating disorder. She first assisted as a social media editor and now facilitates outreach workshops whenever her schedule permits. To read more blogs by Priyanka, visit her site where she writes about self esteem, body image, mental wellness, and physical health. Twitter @PriyankaParshad

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