Cupcakes for student birthday celebrations are a time-honored tradition, and there was a roar on elementary campuses across the McKinney ISD when they were banned last year as part of the District’s comprehensive health initiative.
Those pesky health nuts have become the Grinch who stole birthdays!
OK, moms, I felt the same way, but read on, and I think you will see where this came from. Like it or not, obesity is the health epidemic of our kids’ generation – just as cigarettes were the health issue of our childhood – and McKinney ISD is committed to educating our kids for a lifetime of healthiness.
The times, they have already changed. Many students now have sensitivities to foods that didn’t exist when we grew up. Peanuts, dyes, gluten, wheat, high fructose corn syrup can be a life-threatening issue for students across the district.
The District’s new snack policy is part of a comprehensive new health initiative to educate students on fitness and nutrition. It comes on the heals of a pronouncement by the Centers for Disease Control that this will be the first generation in a century with a shorter life span than their parents, due largely to obesity.
The program called “Celebrations the McKinney Way,” established new guidelines to downplay the role of food in celebrations at school. That includes prohibiting schools from celebrating birthdays with any food. Teachers are now encouraged to find another way to celebrate birthdays for students such as special privileges or recognition. (I heard of one teacher who let the birthday student stand on his or her desk while the class sang happy birthday to them.) If parents want to bring small gifts for students in celebration of their child’s birthday, it needs to be something other than food: Play-Doh, books, special pencils, etc.
Grade schools have already been limited to three parties per year where food is served, but now all food must be pre-packaged with a nutritional label or unpeeled fruit. Only one food item per party can be junk food (food of minimal nutritional value).
These provisions were put in place for several reasons, according to MISD Health and PE Facilitator Karin Klemm and MISD School Health Advisory Chair/Director of Health Services Julie Blankenship.
More and more students have food allergies/sensitivities or medical conditions such as diabetes. Yes, Type 2 diabetes in grade school. In fact one in three children born in 2000 is likely to develop diabetes in their lifetime, and that number climbs to 52 percent for Hispanic boys. What an alarming statistic.
When parents bring in food they prepared at home, there are no controls over what is in that food or how it was prepared. Those of us without peanut or other food sensitivities in our families may not realize everything that is required to protect those kids with severe allergies. The packaging with nutritional labeling is important so that if a student has a reaction to a food item, the school nurse knows exactly what the student ate.
“We see the kids with diabetes. We see the kids that can’t exercise,” said Blankenship. “We want to make a difference for these kids.”
“We are in a lot of trouble, and now we’re doing something about it,” said Ms. Klemm. “This is the only body we have. People need to know that we eat for a purpose – to sustain a healthy life.
Cupcake police? Maybe. But, when you hear that an entire generation may have fewer birthdays just because of what they eat, those cupcakes seem like a small piece of a very big problem.