Schools Turn Into Lunchbox Police Hindering Not Helping Children’s Health

Some time ago I wrote about what I considered to be Nanny State nonsense.  A father was strongly criticised by his daughter’s substitute teacher, because she considered the school lunch, he packed for the little girl, was too unhealthy.

The teacher sent a note home with the child demanding that the father promise to do a better job in the future. In the note, the daughter’s substitute teacher, at Kirksville Primary School in Missouri, listed the unhealthy foods in the little girl’s school lunch, which included four chocolate bars, a bag of marshmallows, crackers and a pickle. It ended: “Please see that she packs a proper lunch tomorrow.” The letter was followed by a request for a parental signature, which the father refused to give, because he was so offended by the letter’s contents.

It turns out that the Dad in question, a man called Justin Puckett, also happened to be a family Doctor from Missouri. He posted the contents of the school letter on Facebook. Many might think and some might even say, as a Doctor, Justin Puckett, should know better than to send his daughter to school with a lunch containing so much junk food.  But in his defence, the Doctor and father said “I have the ultimate responsibility to raise my children and I take that role very, very seriously and so maybe I took it bit more personally that there was some offence that maybe I wasn’t doing a good job in that duty, something that is my number one job.”

To be fair, Justin Puckett, also made the point that the teacher did not give an accurate description of what was in his daughter’s lunch: “Unfortunately, the letter didn’t have what she had, correctly. She had four pieces of ham, a whole protein meat, she also had some pickles, which we admittedly cheat on pickles every once and a while as a vegetable, because some fights just aren’t worth having. She also had four marshmallows in a Ziplock bag and then she had three very small pieces of chocolate, of which she ate one for lunch and then she also gave her brother and another friend one at an after school program,” Puckett said.

The reason I want to raise this issue again was prompted by a piece written by columnist Kasey Edwards, claiming that schools have assumed the role of lunchbox police. Suddenly, the morning snack and lunchtime has become a test to see if parents are faithfully following the laws of healthy eating.

Edwards makes the point that what seems like a really good idea, is questionable on whether it has anything, at all, to do with health. In fact, in the quest to promote nutrition, schools may be unintentionally damaging a child’s relationship with food. One school in Brisbane is so strict that children must show their lunch boxes to the class each morning. Quite frankly that is ridiculous and may well be in breach of the child’s rights. Edwards says it is harmful to the well being of children. She claims to  know of one child, so anxious about having ‘bad’ food in his lunchbox, that he doesn’t want to go to school. Another school in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs conducts food inspections at the school gate, prohibiting ‘junk food’ from entering the school grounds. Of course banning anything only succeeds in sending it underground. Some enterprising pre-teens totally got the concept of supply and demand and realised that prohibition, as it was with alcohol in the United States in the 1930s, is a rolled gold marketing opportunity. These young entrepreneurs started a black market in the trafficking of doughnuts behind the school shed. “What more evidence do you need that food policing by schools is dangerous?” says Clinical Psychologist Louise Adams. “It’s teaching kids to hide their eating and to binge eat.” Adams says the risks far outweigh the benefits when it comes to schools having a food policy. “From the US research, we can see that this sort of food policing has not resulted in a reduction of body weight in children,” she says. “As a psychologist specialising in this area, all I can see happening is that children are developing a fear of food. Fear is not going to make children healthy; it’s just going to make their relationship with food disturbed.”

Edwards points out that at two primary schools in Melbourne, children are only allowed to eat fruit, vegetables and yoghurt for morning tea. She says this means by lunchtime, the kids are frequently starving which, is hardly conducive to learning. But even worse, it’s teaching children not to trust their bodies, and to develop an almost hysterical fear of certain foods.

Edwards retells the story of a friend who packed a single biscuit made by grandma for her daughter’s morning tea. The daughter came home feeling embarrassed that she had ‘bad’ food in her lunch box. “I put one biscuit in, not six,” said the friend. “What’s missing from this situation is the love and care that grandma put into making special biscuits for her granddaughter.” Can’t argue with that.

Edwards says as a mother she puts a lot of effort into teaching  her daughter to listen to her body and to decide when she is hungry and when she is full. If she’s hungry and wants two sandwiches for morning tea, then she is encouraged to eat the two sandwiches. Her daughter is never told to ignore her appetite and only eat carrot sticks. Food is never discussed in terms of good, bad or unhealthy. So there is never shame or guilt about what gets eaten. And that is the way it should be.

Edwards goes on to say that the food policies of some schools undermine the efforts of parents to help children develop healthy relationships with food.

It also goes way beyond a school’s authority. Edwards says as a parent, what goes into her child’s lunch box is her decision, based on family values, her intimate knowledge of her child’s current appetite, preferences, wellbeing, the family budget, and what’s in the cupboard.

And as long as it doesn’t threaten the wellbeing and health of other children, then it is none of the school’s business. Clinical Psychologist, Louise Adams’ says her daughter came home from her school on Sydney’s northern beaches last week, upset because she had a muffin for lunch and was told it was unhealthy.”My daughter was told that she should only eat fruit and vegetables and there was such shame on her face, like she’d really done something terrible,” Adams says. “Kids go from just eating food and being in tune with their bodies, to being scared and feeling worried that they are doing something wrong. This is the breeding ground for an eating disorder.”

Adams says that schools should not be delivering health messages about food to children. It is not their place.

“Kids are very black and white,” Adams says.  “Their capacity for nuance is not developed. If we tell them that something is good and something is bad, they believe that absolutely. Then they relate it to themselves, that they are then a good or bad person. Maybe we as parents need some support and help with how to provide a variety of foods to our kids, but it’s psychologically damaging and unnecessary to discuss it with children.”

But in saying this it doesn’t in any way undermine the need to take action to combat the consumption of junk food. The World Health Organisation, warns that diseases linked to lifestyle choices, including diabetes and some cancers, kill 16 million people prematurely each year and urgent action is needed to stop what it describes as a “slow moving, public health disaster”. Unhealthy habits like consuming too much fat, salt and sugar along with smoking and alcohol abuse, are causing an epidemic of diseases, which together constitute the leading cause of death globally. The WHO says this “lifestyle disease” epidemic “ is a much greater public health threat than any other epidemic in human history.

” Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), like cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, and a range of cancers, killed 38 million people around the globe in 2012 — 16 million of them under the age of 70,”  the WHO says. ” Not thousands are dying, but millions are dying … every year in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, not in their 80s and 90s.”

Forty two million children under the age of five are considered to be obese, and an estimated 84 per cent of adolescents do not get enough exercise.

In Australia, for example, some leading health groups have called on the Government to consider introducing a tax on junk food and sugary drinks.

“Despite at least six reports from task forces, obesity summits and research papers in the past 20 years advocating firm measures to stop marketing junk food to children, the advertising of fat, sugar and salt drenched products continues largely unrestricted,” the groups say in a joint statement. “Unless immediate action is taken to address dietary related illness there will be a significant increase in cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”

And while we clearly need to tackle this epidemic, over-reacting may end up making the problem worse.There is no doubt that the schools are well meaning and want to implement food policies with the best of intentions. But, as Edwards points out, there is scant evidence to show that these policies have resulted in a reduction of childhood obesity and conversely, eating disorders are skyrocketing, so maybe the time has come for schools to consider whether their cure is worse than the disease.

Diet Everyone’s Talking About- Not Eating Anything That Resembles Food

If it’s true that you are what you eat, and if social media is any guide, not many people would want to be British juice queen, Kara Rosen, founder of the juice company, Plenish.

Rosen decided it would be a good idea to unleash her ‘day on a plate’ diet to shock the world out of its unhealthy lethargy into what she considers to be healthy living. So she published her diet, it in all of its glory, in a British newspaper.

It would be fair to say there are a lot of diets, and stories about diets,  doing the rounds these days. You can take your pick. There’s the Paleo diet with activated almonds whatever they might be, no carbs, all liquid and the list goes on. But I don’t think Kara Rosen quite anticipated the worldwide reaction to her diet that bases nearly a whole day’s food intake around a kale salad with pistachios, olives, dried cherries, Argan oil and a drop of apple cider vinegar. It’s certainly a diet because it clearly doesn’t involve much of what most people would call food.

Here is a typical Kara Rosen day. You be the judge. It begins with some hot water and lemon before her morning shower before her workout. Then that’s followed by a handful of nuts before weight training or a run. She then has two scrambled egg whites (Rosen doesn’t like yolk) green tea and when she feels like a weekend treat, an almond milk cappuccino. As for the almond milk cappuccino, I can think of a number of things to call it, but weekend treat, I can safely say, would not be one of them.

Rosen’s biggest meal of the day, wait for it, consists of kale salad, pistachio nuts, olives, dried cherries, Argan oil and a single drop of apple cider vinegar, sometimes with brown rice and grilled fish. A Kara Rosen ‘carby’ lunch, as she calls it, consists of two rice cakes, chia seeds and avocado.

You might not be too surprised to learn that, generally speaking, nutritionists are not impressed with the ‘day on a plate’ diet. In fact not only were they singularly unimpressed, they seriously questioned whether Rosen would be able to survive on such a diet.

The Dietitians Association of Australia was asked to comment on the Rosen diet. Spokesperson, Milena Katz said, in her view, it was “ unrealistic for most people.” I think you’d call that a masterful piece of understatement. Katz made a valiant attempt to break it all down. “ A pack of dried cherries would cost about $A50 a kilo based on fresh cherries being $A20, “ Kata said. “ And I haven’t seen Argan oil for consumption in Australia. It’s been advertised as a hair product.”

Ouch.

Katz said clearly Kara Rosen doesn’t eat certain food groups such as dairy and that might be because she is allergic to certain foods. “ Some people are fine without dairy,” Katz said. “ as long as they are replacing it with supplements. But the majority of people wouldn’t because they don’t know what they are.”

Katz has a description for the obsession some people have about what they eat. She calls it ‘orthorexia nervosa’ An unhealthy fixation with otherwise healthy eating.

“ Generally, we’re seeing that more people are, very, very concerned with what they’re eating,” Katz said. “ And they are potentially excluding good food that they (wrongly) perceive as unhealthy. Normal eating, is eating a bit of everything and having treats on special occasions.”

Now we are talking. Finally a bit of sensible, common-sense advice.

Social media had no shortage of advice for Kara Rosen and her diet. A lot of it was gratuitous and mocking and unkind but pretty funny.

Here are some examples where people have offered their own versions of a ‘day on a plate’ :

“ 7am. Two glasses of deionized water with half a pound of cotton wool. 7.10am 12 specks of dust spread evenly on a 4 “ square of corrugated cardboard. Maybe even a leaf. 12.30pm Two large gulps of free range oxygen. A homemade French abstract lasagna. 3pm A Kit-Kat wrapper. 6.30pm Feng Shui cottage pie with two pipettes of dish water. 10pm Sawdust.

Harriet Ball @ haz_rose: “How to have a #miserable day.”

Charlotte Henry @ charlottehenry : seriously, it is one of the most depressing things I’ve read.”

And Adam Liaw @ admaliaw: “ My day on a plate. 5am wake up and check emails. 6am 10 km run. 7am yoga and a green smoothie. 9am KFC double. 10am cup of ghee. 11am bed.”

Finally, this comment: : “ You’ve accidently given me food that my food eats.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Social media went completely nuts about the Rosen ‘day on a plate’ diet.

The key question worth asking is why do we care? Why would it cause such a strong reaction?  According to Cultural Studies commentator and academic, Doctor Lauren Rosewarne, we care because of the way it makes us feel about our own bodies. She says the ‘day on a plate’ phenomenon gives us leverage to look into how other people live their lives, and what sort of food they eat or don’t eat and in what quantities. “ There is also the comparison factor, “ Rosewarne says. “ How do they eat compared to how I eat? This can make us feel better or worse about ourselves and there’s a lot of guilt surrounding food in our culture.”

Ironically, Rosewarne thinks that social media is largely responsible for the almost instant dissemination of information or indignation about fad diets, especially when someone is preaching about their food choices. She says it is a particularly sensitive issue in western culture.

“Once upon a time, it all stayed in the magazine that came out as a Sunday supplement,”  Rosewarne says. ” But now these columns (like Rosen’s) get a life of their own, thanks to social media.”  Rosewarne says what people really despise,  are people like Kara Rosen, who choose to preach a “ holier-than-thou approach to food consumption, which is fast becoming a cultural irritant that refuses to go away.”

“ We just don’t want to be preached to by non-health experts, “ Rosewarne says.

No we don’t.

Older Women Wanting To Have Healthy Babies, The Trick Is Eat More Ice Cream

Just when you think you’ve heard it all, something comes along that makes you realize you haven’t. Actually, there are a lot of things that I haven’t heard of but this is so bizarre it’s worth talking about.

Here’s a question: What do you think might help older women have babies? Fertility treatment? No. Having a relationship with a man who has a high sperm count? Well yes, but in the context of what I am talking about here, Nah. Give up? Ok. The answer is ice cream.

This revelation, has greater relevance at this time of year if you happen to live in the southern hemisphere, as I do, where the daily summer forecast varies between hot and hotter.

The bottom line is, according to researchers, if you eat ice cream regularly, and you’re an older woman, then it’s going to significantly improve your chances of conceiving a healthy child.

Personally, I don’t need a reason to eat ice cream. Summer or winter. It happens to be one of my favorite pastimes and I have a waistline to prove it.

The research comes from the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center in the United States. They asked women, over the age of 35, to keep a record of what they ate during their IVF treatment.

And when researchers began collating the figures, they discovered something unusual. Those who ate the most ice cream, cream, yogurt and milk, were 21 per cent more likely to give birth than those who rarely ate dairy products. And the quantities don’t need to be big or eaten frequently, every day, to make a difference.

Just three portions of dairy each day is enough to have a significant impact – the daily equivalent of one scoop of ice cream, one glass of milk and a slice of cheese.

So, is there a scientific explanation for why this is happening? Well, apparently there is. According to lead researcher, Dr Jorge Chavarro, of Massachusetts General Hospital, cow’s milk contains hormones that will improve the chances of an embryo being successfully implanted inside the womb.

“We found that women who had the highest intake of dairy were more likely to have live births,” Chavarro said. “ For women under 35 there doesn’t seem to be an association but for women over 35 the association is much stronger. That is the exact opposite of what we expected to find.”

But, I am beginning to think there is an element of the pre-ordained about this research. It turns out the situation is the exact opposite for men. According to this same researcher, if a man eats lots of ice cream, milk, cheese and yoghurt, their fertility will in fact decrease and they’ll end up firing blanks. It is even worse news for obese or overweight men, who eat lots of soy products. This type of food has a catastrophic effect on sperm production. And there’s a scientific reason for this as well. Sperm production is affected by something called phytoestrogens, which are plant compounds that behave exactly like the hormone, oestrogen, which doesn’t like male sperm.

And because obese men, produce more oestrogen than their slimmer counterparts, the adverse effect on sperm production is compounded if you’ll pardon the pun. So the lesson is if you’re male and want to have children it’s best if you are not a vegetarian and you do it at a young age.

But then again if you are male and eat a lot of bacon and processed meat then your sperm count is likely to be 30 percent less than men who avoid these kinds of food.

In fact, Doctor Chavarro is deeply concerned about how beef is produced in the United States because of its possible, harmful effect on male infertility. He says many beef producers give their cattle, natural or synthetic hormones, to stimulate growth, a few days and weeks before they are slaughtered at the abattoir.

These hormones may well be one of the culprits in lowering the male sperm count. In fact if men want to eat food that is going to boost their fertility rather than reduce it, they are better off eating walnuts. They not only improve the quality of sperm production, they can also turn weak swimmers into sperm strong enough to swim across the English Channel.

But getting back to the story of how ice cream is helping to improve the fertility of older women, dairy products contain the hormone, progesterone and that is very good news.. This hormone, makes the female womb become sticky which can have a glue like effect when an embryo is implanted using IVF.

Progesterone production, is known to decrease in women as they get older so this is giving them a new lease of life..

Personally, I’m not quite sure what to make of this research. On the one hand, it offers a glimmer of hope for women who might have left the decision to have a family very late in life. But on the other, it is basically saying that overweight, middle aged men, who are either vegetarian or eat too much processed meat, are almost good for nothing.

And while I am not a vegetarian, nor do I eat a lot of processed meat, I do pretty much fulfil the other requirements which makes me feel a little besieged by all of this news.

I guess if nothing else it gives true meaning to the phrase, you are what you eat.

Who Killed The Sponge Cake?

I am in mourning. I want to know what happened to a magnificent Australian institution. Well it was when I was growing up. I’m talking about the mighty sponge cake. You know the one I mean. It’s so light and fluffy it floats on air filled full of fresh cream and passionfruit and dusted in icing sugar. It gets my lips smacking just thinking about it. Where has it gone? You can’t get it anywhere these days for love or money.

Well you can if you look really hard. It’s now the exclusive domain of that secret society of female brethren….the country women’s association who perfected the art of the sponge cake as well as scones, jam and cream.

Making the perfect sponge is a gastronomique challenge if ever there was one.

The margin of error between triumph and catastrophe is so small it doesn’t bear thinking about. Get it right and you’ll put a smile on the face of even someone with the sourest of temperaments. Get it wrong and all you’ve created is a cream filled frisbee.  That reminds me. I must get my hands on the much coveted Country Women’s recipe book.

But the fact is the sponge cake seems destined to only get star billing at once a year venues like the Sydney Royal Easter Show. Why should we have to wait a year just to get a slice of airy fairy delight I ask?

I blame TV cooking shows like Master Chef and so called patissiers like Adriano Zumbo and his macarons. It’s all French merde if you ask me. He’s driven the sponge cake away. Too old fashioned. Not trendy enough. Well to hell with it.

History reserves a place for the kinds of things that remain true to self. You only have to look at the worldwide cupcake revival. Now there’s a little institution if ever there was one and people are loving them. We’re awash with cupcakes.

But I really do think it’s about time we all stood up for the humble sponge and returned it to its rightful place front and centre among all of the other afternoon tea comestibles. And you can add lamingtons, custard tarts and cream buns while you are at it.