In Massachusetts, the dispute prompted emergency action by the governor a few weeks ago.
In New York City, the battle is pitting a powerful mayor against well-funded corporate opponents.
So what’s at stake? Health care? Property rights? Environmental safety?
No, cupcakes and large Cokes.
With obesity, especially among children, skyrocketing in this country, an aggressive campaign is under way to limit the access of children and, in New York, even adults to empty calories.
The typical target in this campaign has been the vending machines in public school cafeterias, but the efforts are extending to school bake sales and candy sales.
Citing high obesity levels among the state’s 1.5 million students, the Massachusetts Departments of Public Health and Education announced a strict new ban on baked goods and candy sales in schools during school hours.
But the realization that students could no longer bring cupcakes to class for birthday and holiday parties or sell brownies to raise money for the cheerleading squad provoked widespread complaints. (Massachusetts parents could still fill their own child’s lunch boxes with Twinkies or Twizzlers; they just couldn’t send a tray for the entire class.)
So Gov. Deval Patrick rescinded the restriction after an outcry from what might be termed a “sweet tea party” — outraged parents, booster clubs and legislators angry over what they deemed an out-of-control nanny state.
“Nobody’s interested in banning bake sales,” Patrick told reporters at a press conference announcing that the new rules on sweets in school would exclude classroom parties and fund raisers.
New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is going beyond the classroom, seeking to eliminate the sale of large sodas, sweetened teas and energy drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts.
No one — adult or child — could buy sweet drinks in cups or bottles larger than 16 fluid ounces, the size of a Starbuck’s Grande.
(Oddly, sugary coffee drinks, even a 510-calorie Starbuck’s Java Chip Frappuccino Venti, and milkshakes — even an 870-calorie, 22-ounce Chocolate McCafé Shake at McDonald’s — are not on the proposed banned list.)
Bloomberg’s plan has riled the soft drink industry, which has countered with a public relations offensive that includes a slick radio ad chiding, “This is New York City; no one tells us what neighborhood to live in or what team to root for. So are we going to let our mayor tell us what size beverage to buy?”
While the umbrage is not as strident when the junk food bans are imposed on children, there is a growing uneasiness with schools acting as food police.
A national controversy erupted when a North Carolina 4-year-old’s lunch from home — a turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips and apple juice — was judged nutritionally deficient by a teacher and replaced with a school lunch of chicken nuggets.
And there was disbelief in May when a Utah high school was fined $15,000 by the federal government for selling soda during lunch hour. Schools that receive federal funds through the National School Lunch Program must follow its rules, including limits on what can be sold in school vending machines during lunch, or incur fines.
The reason for the zealousness — and the occasional over zealousness — is clear when you visit a carnival, playground or public pool: Overweight children.
If childhood obesity and its associated diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure and cancer aren’t curbed, today’s children may not live as long or as healthily as their parents.
Georgia ranks second in the country for childhood obesity. Today, one in five of Georgia children is classified as obese.
But can schools change behaviors that begin at home?
For example, students at the Utah high school slapped with the soda-selling fine sidestep the lunchtime ban on Cokes, Sprites and Mountain Dews by bringing soft drinks from home or by leaving campus to buy them.
So, school vending machines that once raised $30,000 a year for student activities now raise half that amount as a result of the strict limits on what can be sold and when.
In Massachusetts, parents and club sponsors overturned the school-day bake sale ban by describing fruitless efforts to sell apples and yogurts instead of brownies and donuts. The healthier snack sales didn’t sell.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog