Thursday, 2 July 2015

Schools should stop policing the diets of children - it's none of their business

Soon to be banned from your local primary school

You know when you buy the sarnie in the plastic packaging at the fast counter in the supermarket? And, rushing to your car ripping the packaging open, you grab the sarnie and bite into it expecting a tang, a flavour? Nothing, nothing at all. You remind yourself again to get a salt pot and keep it in the glove compartment for those moments when the bizarre salt-free world of mass-market sarnies hits your mouth.

Salt was the first triumph of the nannying fussbuckets. They persuaded us (and more importantly the manufacturers of the foods we buy not to mention caterers in hotels, works canteens and schools) that salt is "bad for you". Just yesterday at a dinner the request to pass the salt pot (thank heavens that pot was provided - some places have removed such evil in case it tempts us to try and improve the flavourless pap they produce) was greeted with 'ooh, salt - that's bad' and variants on this mantra. There really isn't a great deal of evidence to support this assertion but we have come to believe that it is true.

The easiest target for all this fussbucketry is children. After all we all care for the children and want them to grow up into happy and healthy adults armed with the knowledge that means they'll live to a ripe old age. And parents - or a lot of them - are perennially guilty about how they're bringing up their youngsters. Are they getting the right exercise? Is their diet balanced? Do fizzy drinks make them hyper? Are we too strict? Too lenient? Will they turn into little sugar-crazed monsters if we don't let them have the occasional sweetie? The industry that this worry generates is enormous and exploitative - selling fads and fancies to mums and dads, promoting crazy ideas, and flip-flopping from one extreme to another on every subject from discipline to diet.

Along comes the state - urged by the net mums and lifestyle columnists to set the ideal, to provide directions on how best to raise children. Parents are frightened by scaremongering articles about childhood obesity (despite the evidence of their own eyes when it comes to their own children), misinformation about sugar and a whole bunch of pseudo-scientific wibble promoted by profit-mongers like Jamie Oliver. In the USA even the president's wife got in on the act (fulfilling the traditional role of that wife as nannying worrywart to the nation) by promoting legislation that cuts out the sugar, salt and other designated 'bad food' in school dinners.

And the result of all this fussbucketry? Our children become spivs, smugglers and dodgy dealers:

During a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Rep. Todd Rokita (R., Ind.), a school administrator told Congress of the “unintended consequences” of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

“Perhaps the most colorful example in my district is that students have been caught bringing–and even selling–salt, pepper, and sugar in school to add taste to perceived bland and tasteless cafeteria food,” said John S. Payne, the president of Blackford County School Board of Trustees in Hartford City, Indiana.

You prohibit stuff that people like and, as sure as night follows day, you get a black market in those goodies. What on earth makes people - teachers, governors, legislators - think that somehow children will behave differently. In the UK schools are now routinely implementing oppressive, insistent anti-taste campaigns wrapped up as 'healthy food policies'. A government minister, Lord Nash - caught up in this incipient food fascism - has told us that all this poking around and policing the lunchboxes of children is absolutely fine:

“There is nothing to prevent schools from having a policy of inspecting lunch boxes for food items that are prohibited under their school food policies.

“A member of staff may confiscate, keep or destroy such items found as a result of the search if it is reasonable to do so in the circumstances.

“It would be good practice for the pupil to be present during an inspection and for a second member of staff to be present if any items are to be confiscated.

“If authorities and schools are concerned about their legal position, they should seek their own legal advice.”

And we know the result of policies banning chocolate, fizzy drinks, pastries and cakes:

A young entrepreneur has been suspended from his healthy eating school for repeatedly selling sweets there.

Tommie Rose, 12, said he made up to £200 a day selling chocolate and fizzy drinks to fellow pupils at Salford's Oasis Academy.

He was warned he was breaking a healthy eating policy, but continued to trade.

Following his week's suspension, the schoolboy said he would give the rest of his stock to the army "to bring to the homeless".

He said that he got the idea from the BBC series The Apprentice, particularly the episode "where they buy stuff from shops and sell them".

Tommie said he bought the sweets and drinks in bulk from discount stores and then sold them on for a marked-up price.

In the end it is not the job of schools to police the diets of the children they teach. The secret is in that last word - teach. That is what schools are for - to provide children with the essential skills and knowledge to succeed in the modern world. This includes information about food and diet so those children can make informed choices but it isn't a justification for introducing policies that allow teachers to steal food from the lunch boxes of their pupils because in their (unqualified) opinion that food is 'unhealthy'.

Most children - 90% or more of them - are not unhealthily fat, levels of childhood obesity are not rising and may even be falling.

The data shows there was a significant increase in child and adolescent overweight and obesity rates every year during the first decade from 1994 to 2003. Overall, annual rates did not increase significantly during the second decade, 2004 to 2013.

Yet schools have taken it upon themselves to take food from perfectly healthy children who are most likely eating a balanced diet simply to comply with a policy that does precisely zero to promote the educational purpose of the school.

It really is time schools focused on their job and stopped policing the diets of children.

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