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Every Day is Halloween

By: Christine Grillo

Two days ago, documentary producer Laurie David joined us here at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) for a special screening of Fed Up, which explores the causes of the obesity crisis in America. Guess what? It’s Big Sugar’s fault. That’s an oversimplification, but not by much.

When I asked her for a comment on Halloween and its super-sized candy promotion, she said, “Don’t get me started. Every day is Halloween in this country.”

I kind of agreed. If we’re talking about candy, Christmas has become Halloween. Easter has become Halloween. She took it a step further. “Fridays are Halloween. Weekends are Halloween.”

Karen Stillman at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) wrote about the frightening, Halloween-scale amount of sugar consumed by kids, especially boys in the 9-12 age range—every single day. (You know those “fun size” candy bars? UCS research says that boys in that age range consume a daily average of sugar equivalent to 18 “fun size” candy bars. That’s ¾ of a cup of sugar.)

It was almost four years ago (December 2010) that Congress approved and President Obama signed a child nutrition bill giving the secretary of agriculture authority to establish nutrition standards for foods sold in schools. Officially, it’s the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. A lot of us know it as the “school lunch act.” Whatever you call it, it charges the USDA with overseeing what kids eat during the school day, including items in vending machines. You know, like candy, soda, and the trifecta of so-called vitamin water, sports drinks, and fruit drinks.

The law requires schools to serve more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, and its impact has the potential to be significant: according to the USDA’s the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), in 2012, 31 million American children received a free or reduced lunch. (According the National Center for Education Statistics, about 50 million children attend public school every year, and another 5 million attend private school. That’s more than 55 percent of U.S. schoolchildren who rely on the NSLP to feed them lunch.)

Here’s how Congress is trying to trick us: some members want to roll back the healthy food requirements mandated in the 2010 law. They say that some school districts find it too difficult to comply—the kids don’t want the fruits and veggies, they say—and these certain lawmakers want to waive the requirements for the districts that are struggling. You know what’s scary? That some members of the House and the Senate think it’s okay to cheat on school lunch requirements

Here’s how you can get started on a holiday gift to America’s children: tell your elected officials that you want them to defend healthy school lunches and keep the sugar out of the vending machines. Congress will be voting soon; they’re waiting until after next week’s elections, so the vote will be this month or next, most likely.

Let’s spook them. UCS has a letter-writing campaign to defend the new standards healthy school lunches. You can also write directly to your representative and senators. With Open Congress, it’s easy to find out who your senators and representatives are—all you need to do is enter is a zip code. A phone call or a letter by snail mail can go a long way.

Let’s treat our kids to healthy school lunches, and hope that whoever votes to roll back the requirements gets their just desserts.

Photos: Mike Milli

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