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Posted at 3:42 PM ET, 04/25/2010

Banning cookies: Is this school going too far?

By Valerie Strauss

A Tucson school has banned all foods that it says are processed, going as far as taking away meals that teachers say break the rules.

The public charter school, Children’s Success Academy, has a policy that allows students to bring certain foods, such as whole grain bread and crackers, but bars white bread, according to this story in the Arizona Daily Star.

Fresh fruit is great, but no fruit in syrup. And, of course, no cookies. Not a single one.

The Web site says:

Foods to be avoided entirely include refined sugars, sugar substitutes and other highly processed items including fats, such as margarines, which contain partially hydrogenated oils. These foods have all been shown in recent scientific studies to be connected to health problems. For example, the current epidemic of obesity and diabetes in children is linked to the use of large amounts of sugar-filled foods and highly processed foods from very early childhood. Sugar substitutes are well known to be addictive, and to be linked with numerous disorders, including migraine headaches and other neurological problems.


The founder of the school, Nanci Aiken, has a doctorate in cell physiology and once worked as a cancer researcher at the Arizona Cancer Center and Johns Hopkins Medical School.

She is quoted in the story as saying that she sometimes feels “like the Wicked Witch of the West,” but believes she is helping the students -- even if they don’t know it.

"When you eat sugar, especially by itself like a candy bar, you get a rush and crash. An apple will not give you instant gratification or a rush, but it lasts longer," she was quoted as saying. "An apple and a piece of cheese is ideal - your blood sugar will go up gradually and then will go down gradually over a period of hours."

The school, with students from kindergarten through fifth grade, says it is dedicated to teaching the Arizona State Standards through a values-based, service-oriented and globally-focused curriculum.

That all sounds fine.

But telling a second grader he or she can’t have a little cookie with lunch? Insisting kids eat peanut butter on whole wheat rather than white bread?

Yes, there is an obesity epidemic in the country, for many reasons. Giving a child a cookie with a well-balanced lunch isn't one of them.

Promoting and encouraging healthy eating habits is important at home and at school, but learning moderation is a life-long lesson. Hard-line policies are bound to spark some resentment -- and rule-breaking -- among kids.

At other schools, parents and teachers worry about kids smuggling in drugs. Here, the smuggling rings probably revolve around double-stuff Oreos, regular and golden.

Is this school going overboard, or doing the right thing?

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By Valerie Strauss  | April 25, 2010; 3:42 PM ET
Categories:  Health  | Tags:  Children's Success Academy, charter schools, health, obesity epidemic, school lunch, school lunch program, school that bans cookies  
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Comments

I think that it is stupid, but that's not my decision to make.

The whole "defense" of charter schools is that it lets schools try out different things that work for their populations. It is not crazy to think that making sure kids have good nutrition would have a positive impact on kids ability to learn. While I think that it makes a lot more sense to teach good nutrition WITH acknowledgement that sometimes we have a cookie or other treat, I respect the school leader's right to say that we are setting this policy.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | April 25, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

"Sugar substitutes are well known to be addictive, and to be linked with numerous disorders, including migraine headaches and other neurological problems."

Junk science, pure and simple.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | April 25, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: kellytkettle | April 25, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

Eat right & lose weight to Control Diabetes. Use meal planner to find right foods which may help you manage blood sugar under control. Use this free meal planner http://bit.ly/9Rgkqn

Posted by: kalinaheidi | April 26, 2010 2:18 AM | Report abuse

Banning foods in kids lunches is going overboard, IMHO, but I wish all schools would ban the endless treats and goodies in the classroom, brought in by well meaning moms or the teacher herself to celebrate birthdays and other events. I don't think a week goes by without my kids getting cupcakes, donuts, or other crap in their classroom. They get cupcakes for St Patricks Day, cupcakes for Winter Holiday, cupcakes for birthdays, and cupcakes when they are well behaved.

Posted by: bkmny | April 26, 2010 6:16 AM | Report abuse

As a children's physical activity specialist, I am certainly concerned about childhood overweight and obesity! But this is the wrong approach. Banning cookies and such will simply make them more desirable ("forbidden fruit," if you wil) and won't help with a healthy lifelong approach to eating and maintaining weight!

Posted by: raepica | April 26, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

I think it belittles the issue to write it off as an over-eager response to obesity. I'm more interested in how it affects the kids' ability to learn. Eating lots of sugar and refined carbs gives you big swings in blood sugar, which can send you from over-amped to slug in a span of about two hours -- at which point you're starving and need a snack to start the whole cycle over again. And hungry kids don't learn well (which was sort of the point of creating federally-subsidized school breakfasts and lunches in the first place -- too bad they serve so much crap).

Would I sign my kid up for a school with such a rigid policy? Probably not; my girl is a relatively healthy eater, so having a cookie at lunch isn't going to have that big of an impact. For us, I really don't want to create any kind of "forbidden food." That degree of nanny-ism would annoy me.

But at the same time, maybe I need to get over myself if it would be better for the kids. I watched the Jamie Oliver season finale Friday night, and the contents of the brown-bag lunches were ridiculous. One girl's lunch consisted of two kinds of potato chips and jelly beans. Most everyone else had a Lunchable (yes, chips and "nacho" cheese dip -- the breakfast of champions) -- not one sandwich, not one piece of actual fruit.

Parents who can't bother to send a reasonable lunch aren't doing their kids any favors. And if the parents aren't willing or able to set their kids up to learn properly, then maybe the school should step in -- or at least give a charter school a shot at it to see if it makes a difference.

Posted by: laura33 | April 26, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

I wonder about cookies that are homemade with whole wheat flour? Still not good because they have sugar I suppose? Granola bars?
Interesting that cheese is ok.

I agree with bkmny who posted above. My kids get given a treat by some neighbor or at school almost everyday.

I wish everybody was pushing fruit and veggies. When kids are together they tend to try things that they see other kids eating. In Texas, I was amazed that all the kids brought fruits and even salad to a school party. They didn't want the chips and junk food, but loaded up on watermelon, apples, etc. Ice cream was big too. The point is they were from a culture that didn't push junk food, they pushed fruits and the kids considered fruits to be treats.

My kids try more new foods if they see other kids eating them.

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Posted by: itkonlyyou29 | April 26, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

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Posted by: sideswiththekids | April 28, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

I hope none of the students at this school are diabetics. Diabetics on insulin have to carry some kind of sugar or candy with them to revive them quickly in case of insulin reaction. By the way, I have used artificial sweeteners for 50 years--I also suffered from migraines, but the two had no connection. The migraines disappeared with age, like they do in a lot of women, and I still use a lot of artificial sweeteners. (The Feingold Diet for hyperactivity has been discredited, too.)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | April 28, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

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