Taylor Poston, KLJ Staff Editor
Students at one Kentucky school are no longer allowed to have their cake and eat it too—at least at birthday parties.
Due to a revision in their school’s wellness policy, students at Burlington Elementary School will no longer be able to have food at birthday celebrations.[i] The school decided to change its policy, in part, to comply with federal guidelines.[ii] Parents and school officials said that it was not an easy decision to ban the treats, but practically, it would better serve the students and their learning environment.[iii]
Burlington Elementary School, which is part of the Boone County school district in northern Kentucky, is not alone nationally in its decision to ban certain foods from celebrations.[iv] A Seattle suburb has also banned birthday treats, as well as schools in Kalamazoo, Michigan; Boulder, Colorado; Louisville, Kentucky; and Minneapolis, Minnesota.[v]
This movement toward banning certain unhealthy foods from schools, though objectionable to some, may be a smart way schools can help promote healthy lifestyles for their students.
Obesity, and particularly childhood obesity, has become a significant health concern in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately seventeen percent of children (ages 2-19) are obese nationwide.[vi] The percentage of Kentucky children who are obese is even higher, at around 19.7 percent.[vii]
Any local educational agency participating in the National School Lunch Program and/or the School Breakfast Program must develop a wellness policy.[viii] The purpose of the policies is to promote “students’ health, well-being, and ability to learn.”[ix] The wellness policy requirement was established by legislation in 2004 and further strengthened by legislation in 2010.[x]
In February 2014, the Department of Agriculture proposed certain regulations under the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010 “to create a framework and guidelines for written wellness policies established by [local educational agencies].”[xi] The proposed rule, titled Local School Wellness Policy Implementation, contained different provisions concerning topics like public involvement and the content of the wellness policy.[xii] For example, local educational agencies must place “wellness policy leadership” in someone who would have the authority and responsibility to ensure compliance with the policy and must permit participation by the general public and the school community in the wellness policy process.[xiii] Nutrition promotion and education and physical activity would be goals of the policies, and local educational agencies would be required to provide annual progress reports.[xiv] In addition, policies would be assessed every three years, and state agencies would play a role in assessing compliance with the wellness policy requirements.[xv]
Wellness policies can help schools create a structured course to keep students healthier. A birthday cake ban may seem harsh, but childhood obesity is a legitimate concern for society. Parents at Burlington Elementary School said that on particular days, students could have as many as three parties.[xvi] With the average store-bought cupcake containing 298 calories[xvii], multiple sugary treats add up. And, while students may not be permitted to have cupcakes or ice cream, some schools, like Burlington Elementary, will permit students to have non-food items, such as pencils and erasers.[xviii] One student was creative and brought jump ropes to school for his birthday, which provided a healthy way for his class to celebrate.[xix]
By encouraging health in students early on, school bans on items like cupcakes and ice cream can help promote better lifestyles for students, which could allow them to celebrate many more birthdays.
[xvi] Brown, supra note 1.