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Let them eat mince and cheese pie

According to a recent survey, almost 80% of respondents would favour the government requiring all schools to implement a healthy food policy.

I find that pretty staggering, though from the poll results it would appear I am of a minority viewpoint.

In response to the survey, the Green Party has called for the government to regulate the sale of junk food in schools and to promote “healthy, Kiwi-grown produce and food.” They claim:

The Green Party is calling on the Government to listen to the overwhelming number of Kiwi parents who want junk food banned from schools, instead of protecting the rights of food corporations which sell junk food to our children.

A survey released today shows that 80 per cent of those polled were in favour of the Government requiring all schools to implement a health food policy, as well as restricting the use of junk food and fizzy drinks as fundraisers.

“One of the first – and one of the worst – things this National Government did was to scrap the guidelines around the sale of junk food in school tuck shops. This survey shows what an absolute failure that policy is,” said Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague.

“We know that allowing multi-national junk food corporations to sell sugary and fatty food to our kids is contributing to more Kiwi children becoming overweight.

“In 2006/2007, before National came into Government, the obesity rate among Kiwi kids aged 2 to 14 was 8.4%; by 2013 that had jumped to more than 10%

“We are getting fatter and unhealthier as a nation, and instead of taking meaningful action to prevent that, this Government has chosen to do the exact opposite.

“This is the worst kind of public-health policy making, and will cost people their lives and the health system billions of dollars well into the future.

“New Zealanders want more regulation in this area, not less, which puts the Government seriously out of step with Kiwi parents.

“The Green Party has long advocated for the regulation of the sale of junk food in schools and the promotion of healthy, Kiwi-grown produce and food.

“Schools can play an important part in reducing the obesity epidemic in New Zealand and its associated costs but the Government has to play its part too, which it currently isn’t,” said Mr Hague

I would like to think that any criticism I have of their press release would be obvious. But considering the results of the survey, nothing should be taken for granted. So here are some thoughts that immediately come to mind:

  1. If the survey is truly representative of NZ public opinion, then why aren’t parents taking action, and simply not giving their kids money to spend at the tuck shop? Most primary school kids (and I assume the policy doesn’t extend to teenagers, though the Greens aren’t specific about what age people are capable of making their own dietary decisions) don’t have jobs, they must be getting the money from somewhere. And last time I checked tuck shop food is still more expensive than bringing lunch from home. Of course, parents could be sending their children to school without food. But in that case surely the parents can’t then complain if their children do not make healthy choices. If parents feel so passionately about the importance of healthy eating, then why are they not imparting that knowledge and discipline on to their kids?
  2. Do we even have the numbers to prove that, out of the consumers of junk food, how many are regular consumers, rather than just people who enjoy a treat in moderation? How about what proportion of these consumers are obese?
  3. And surely, out of these obese children, the problem does not just lie with junk food in schools. Unless what these kids eat at home is equally monitored and regulated, it is hardly addressing the problem by only regulating a fraction of the meals and snacks a person will consume in a day.
  4. I’m sceptical of this whole idea that these “multi-national junk food corporations” are marketing to children over and above any other age group. A pie and coke can be delicious at any age. And surely the situation becomes even more problematic in adulthood with an increased disposable income and greater junk food availability, rather than the choices available in just one tuck shop. Also, I don’t understand why the Green Party advocate specifically for Kiwi-grown produce and food, as if all imported food is automatically unhealthy.

Luckily, there is some sense in the public conversation. The New Zealand Herald cites New Zealand Principals’ Federation president Denise Torrey:

“We can educate students. But obesity doesn’t start at school. Families – and legislators – have to do their bit as well,” she said. “We are happy to do our part, but schools are not here to solve all social problems. When it comes to food, we don’t have any choice about what parents buy. Are they going to legislate around that as well?”

Again, I would have thought most of this would be rational, common sense. If it wasn’t, surely pies in schools would have been banned a long while back, they are hardly phenomenon. Plus, if this is truly what parents want, then why are not self-regulating their family’s behaviour?

What can the government do, that families cannot do for themselves already?

About Jenesa Jeram (23 Articles)
I'm a researcher at the Initiative, currently working on social issues and public health. I have Twitter but I'm not very good at it: @JenesaJeram (I'm also super creative).

4 Comments on Let them eat mince and cheese pie

  1. Aren’t parents on school boards of trustees, and aren’t policies like this set by those boards? Why have a one size fits all policy, why don’t individual schools set policies if they want them? I sense political grandstanding.

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  2. I’ve never really understood the reasoning that you think so obvious Jenesa. Kids are at school to learn stuff their parents variously can’t or won’t teach. Why would we not include healthy eating among the messages/patterns to be inculcated by example, practice and instruction? Why would we not insist on showing consistency and seriousness by impeding access and temptation at school?
    I don’t need to subscribe to the ritual Green drivel about multi-national corporations to support their campaign on this and to wonder about the constitutional grasp and common sense of those who apparently see it as a freedom issue.
    those who want to extend basic common law liberties to children turn the law and liberty’s cause to nuttiness. There is sound reasoning that is not archaic behind classical liberalism’s foundation thinkers always confining rights to choose self harming conduct that does not harm others, to “competent Adults” (using competent in its old sense of not being under a disqualifying disability).
    Think, for example, of the legal insanity if laws against assault, and prohibitions on detaining people against their will were applied to parents shutting a child in his room for ‘time out’.
    Kids are compulsorily at school. Coercion is inescapable there. There is an entire growing industry of creepy (though sincere and well meaning) lawyers making livings out of capricious and chaos inspiring second guessing of teachers’ disciplinary decisions. It is growing from the grotesque inability of modern judges to recall and express the self restraint and common sense of the great common lawyers.
    And what greatert weirdness and hypocrisy can there be than for National, the party of the digital harassment law, health and safety law that deprives all of control of their own risk choices, to turn freedom principles on their head by sponsoring suppliers of damaging crap to kids who’ve sensibly never been holders of rights to harm themselves against the wishes of their parents or custodians in loco parentis.

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    • It could well be inconsistent for an increasingly nannying National to fail to mandate a national diet for schoolchildren, but it’s an inconsistency I’d hope would be resolved by reducing the nannying elsewhere rather than getting rid of tasty tuck-shop options.

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    • Hi Stephen, thanks for engaging 🙂 First, I’d like to say I completely agree with your last point about the hypocrisy of National, though I’d agree with Eric and argue that consistency in this case would be undesirable.

      I get your point that perhaps the right to choose self-harming conduct may not necessarily relate to children, but at what point do unhealthy foods become self-harming? Consumed in moderation, surely these foods pose no threat?

      I agree that there’s a case for promoting healthy eating education in schools, for children whose parents failed to teach them. However, I don’t think a strong case can be made for impeding access entirely. I’d reconsider if there was strong evidence that a significant majority of children were failing to consume unhealthy tuck shop food in moderation.

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