At Issue: Should Sugar Be Banned In Schools?

sprinkles-339270_640The war on sugar is full force. It seems impossible to turn on the news, stroll the supermarket or host a playdate without the topic of sugar rearing its head. In particular: kids’ consumption of sugar.

Recently a neighbourhood school has made a push to greatly reduce the amount of sugar permitted. Let’s face it, any time someone talks about banning, prohibiting, eliminating . . .people get feisty.

Efforts to reduce sugar in schools has been around for years, and in the case of a Georgia school, more than a decade. Proponents cite better overall health, fewer behavioural problems, and increased concentration to name just a few of the benefits. Principal of sugar-free pioneer school Browns Mill Elementary School said that within 6 months standardized test scores increased and behavioural incidents decreased. In time, students came to learn how to make good food choices and now broccoli is a favourite in the cafeteria. Advocates know that this is a huge undertaking – but they are playing the long game; quick to point out those efforts to reduce tobacco use in younger people has been successful over decades.

Nonetheless there are several opponents of the idea to limit sugar in schools, including researchers who report findings that suggest banning sugar in schools has little long term effect on a child’s overall sugar consumption and that changing attitudes in the home have a more lasting impact. In fact, Dr. John Sievenpiper says that negative messages like “don’t eat fat”, “don’t eat salt”, and “don’t eat sugar” may be doing more negative than good. He goes as far to blame the “don’t eat fat” message that was sweeping the nation in the 80s and 90s as one of the reasons for the current obesity epidemic. MaryAnn Tomovich, MS., RD agrees and believes that banning any specific food group creates a culture of fear and does nothing to ultimately educate our children. She, along with Dr. Michael Alderman, is a fan of the U diet: the basis being healthy, nutritious foods but allowing for some indulgences.

I am no health expert and my statistics grades will attest that a profession as a researcher is not in my future, but I do know parents. And I know how to quickly polarize a group of them.

So what do you think? Should schools ban all sugar? Are vending machines ok to get the heave-ho but school birthday cakes allowed? If a teacher gives out lollipops after a test or uses candies in a counting lesson, should they be reprimanded? Classroom parties: yay or nay in the presence of anything other than pretzels and veggie platters? What about fundraising? Fun Fairs? Bake sales? Is water the only acceptable beverage in the lunch bag?

Where is the line drawn and furthermore, who decides?

This week 4Mothers offers up our opinions and on Friday we’re joined by the dynamic duo Leigh and Meg of the blog Me and Meg.

As always we want to know that you think. What’s going on at your child’s school? Are you in favour of an all-out ban, gentle moderation or leaving it up to a parents to decide what is and isn’t too much sugar?

Join the conversation by leaving a comment on the blog, Facebook or Instagram.

For more reading:

(2014) Why Our Low-Fat, No-Sodium, Ban-Sugar Society May Be Making Us Fat

(2011) Banning Sugared Drinks in Schools Doesn’t Lower Student Consumption

(2011) Why Banning Foods In Schools Sends Kids the Wrong Message

(2008) 10 years later, school still sugar free and proud

Caecillius est in horto. Mater non est compos mentis.

What does it say about your child when he, having grown weary of the old-school teaching style of his Mandarin teacher (Mandarin being a required subject at his school as part of the TDSB’s integrated International Languages program), decides to try to convince his parents to write to the school excusing him from further Mandarin lessons, such a concession by the school to be made possible on promise that his mother will home-school him in her free time in another language of his request? And he continues this campaign for a couple of days straight?

And what if his language of choice is Latin?

Despite his pleas, and much to his chagrin, eldest child has not been excused from ongoing attendance in Mandarin class. He is now, however, the possessor of the first four chapters of  Latin for Children, which he shall start working through over the March Break.

All of this is to say: be careful what you wish for, especially when – surprise! – your mother studied Latin in high school.  You never know when a request like this might bite you in the nates.

Are There Really More ADHD Kids or Just A More Intolerant Education System?

The Globe and Mail ran a six part series on boys and education.  As a mother of three boys and a former teacher, I was interested in reading the opinions of various experts.

The stand-out point for me was the discussion surrounding the alarming number of students being medicated for Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD).  Along with the rise in diagnosis is the number of children being prescribed Ritalin with the majority of cases being identified in young boys.

The article identifies that the only way ADHD can be diagnosed is by reviewing reports authored by parents and teachers about a child’s behaviour.  The question that comes to my mind, is it possible that we have created an educational system that stifles a boy’s natural instincts (to be fair, some girls too) to be physically active and in constant motion?  Is it possible that we are trying to manipulate a square peg in a round hole?

Generations ago children played outside, walked to and from school, were responsible for helping with household chores.  In effect these actions helped to “get the beans out”.  Maybe our sedentary lifestyles, complete with video games, t.v., car-pools and heavy after-school programming has attributed to children being under-stimulated, both physically and emotionally.  After all, playing outside for hours on end not only encourages children to use their imaginations but also to be active.

Who knows?  Maybe thirty years ago there were just as many ADHD kids but we just didn’t have a name for it.  Maybe those kids were labeled “bad”.  Regardless, if the numbers of boys being diagnosed ADHD is on the rise, then do we not owe it to our boys to review the education system where they spend between six and eight hours a day?

I grew up in the “girls are just the same as boys” era.  We were told that we were the same as boys and could do anything that our counterparts could do.  But now, as the mom of three boys, I see that message is flawed.  Yes we can do the same things boys can do but there are some fundamental differences between the sexes.  Leonard Sax and Barry McDonald both have researched and written extensively on the subject of boys and gender differences.  I have found their findings to resonate with me and have helped me to understand my boys’ behaviour.

For example, they physically are not able to sit at the dinner for 20 minutes without fidgeting, they have to jump on couches, everything must be tossed into the air like a ball (forks, shoes, books, etc.), physical contact is necessary in relaying their messages especially when they are toddlers . . . it’s not their fault.  It’s in their genes.  It’s in their wiring.

I understand that there are societal norms that my boys have to adhere to, but I want to know that the education system is taking steps to understand how the sexes learn differently.  Prescribing drugs is a dangerous band-aid solution that may  simply prove to only sedate our children while damaging their self-esteem.

photo credit: http://encefalus.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/ritalin.jpg

Great Reads: The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn

The sound of a school bell clanging in the morning means many things to different people.  For a teacher, it is the start of the teaching day.  For a child, it is the start of a learning day.  For a parent it is the start of a chaotic workday – whether that work be inside or outside of the home.

This September the shrill of the school bell symbolized a new beginning for my son.  Together we stood, hand in hand, outside the kindergarten entrance.  His brand new bright red backpack hung from his shoulders.  His blue eyes were wide as he anxiously took in the schoolyard scene: older boys tossing balls against the wall, girls with pigtails and tights twirling colourful skipping ropes.  His little hand gripped mine, ever so tightly.  To be truthful, maybe it was me who was doing the gripping.

I knew that in an instant, when he walked single-file through those heavy double doors, a chapter in our lives had come to an end.  No longer was I the new mother, unsure and without confidence.  No longer was he the little boy who needed to be rocked to sleep in my arms.

My son released his grip on my hand and I leaned down to kiss him goodbye.  I squeezed him and choked back my tears.  I whispered in his ear how much I loved him.  We clung to each other for a moment, each of us gathering the strength to pull away.  Just as he was about to join his new classmates, he held out his small hand, palm facing up.  I knew what he wanted.

Weeks before the start of kindergarten we read The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.  The story is about a little raccoon was nervous to start the first day of school.  His mother kisses the palm of his hand so whenever he is feeling lonely or scared, he can place the palm on his cheek and feel the love of his mother.

I took my son’s hand and kissed it and then extended my palm towards him.  He walked towards the line-up with his hand firmly pressed against his cheek and held it there until he disappeared into the hallways of the school.

I turned and walked away, my hand against my cheek.

This has become our morning ritual and I am very thankful to have come across this book that helped to make the transition to kindergarten a bit easier for both of us.  Is there a book or story that you used with your children to get through a tough time or to teach an insightful lesson?