First, some sugar facts:
- The American Heart Association recommends that children get no more than 3-4 teaspoons of sugar a day, adult women should limit sugar to 5 teaspoons a day, and adult men and teens should limit it to 8-9 teaspoons a day. (One teaspoon equals 4 grams of sugar.)
- The average American eats 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, which adds up to 70 pounds of sugar per year. (Gross!)
- A can of soda has 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar, and a lot of cupcakes have 500 calories and 40 grams of sugar. (That’s like eating 10 sugar cubes!)
- Sugar causes behavioral issues (depression, anxiety and aggression), tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. And it weakens your immune system.
- Sugar is addictive.
- Everyone loves sugar!
It seems like most adults have a complicated relationship with sugar. We all know it’s bad for us, but we eats tons of it anyway. It’s in everything. We celebrate with sugar and show people our love and appreciation with sugar. We love to bake with our kids and to take them out for ice cream. Girl Scouts sell cookies, Campfire Girls sell candy, and little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice.
I love sugar as much as the next person, and I am a total sucker when my kids ask me for a sugary treat. So for me the only way to eat less sugar is to not buy it; to try not have it in the house. We don’t have a habit of eating desert after dinner or having sugary snacks. We try to stay away from processed foods. We don’t drink much juice or soda. We try to teach our kids about making healthy food choices and we look at the sugar content on food packages. But I’m not a fanatic by any means. We love to bake. I put a little desert in their lunch boxes every day – usually a small piece of chocolate. And I often have chocolate in the house. I can’t help it. My excuse is that I’m half Belgian. And human.
For kids, however, sugar is far less complicated. Their relationship with sugar is simple: get as much as possible. Which is why I can’t stand the fact that my kids are being given sugar at school. They’re not going to say no to sugar, and I’m not at school to say “You’ve already had enough!”
But before I tell my woeful tale of sugar at my kids’ school, let me first say that I love my kids’ school. This is Nadine’s last year there before heading off to middle school, and she has had an amazing six years there. She is so prepared to head off to middle school because of her wonderful education, caring teachers, and supportive parents.
But if I could change one thing about that school, it would be for them to please stop giving the kids sugar. Birthdays in the classroom are frequent and celebrated with cupcakes and doughnuts. Rice-Krispy Treats and Twinkies are traded on market day (the “bring something from home to sell/trade” day.) Candy is given out by some teachers and tutors, and at some before/after school activities. It wouldn’t be too bad if it was just one thing, but all of these things add up to too much sugar.
Too many times have I brought a healthy snack to the playground after school, only to have my kids turn up their noses because they’ve just had a Krispy Kreme doughnut for someone’s birthday, or been given candy for doing crossing guard duty. I do not want to take Nadine to her three hours of gymnastics after school when she’s eaten only a sugary snack filled with empty calories.
So last week I went to the PTA meeting to plead my case, along with a friend of mine who feels as passionately about this as I do. I was also really curious to see if other parents, teachers, and administrators were in agreement, and if so, how we might adopt a sugar-less culture at school. Here’s the handout we brought with us:
I tried to be really careful to use the term “sugar-less” instead of “sugar-free” because I’m not proposing we ban sugar from the school, I’m proposing that we stop giving our kids sugar without parental consent, and have less sugar at school. Let’s go ahead and have the bake sales, and the Halloween carnival, but please, during the day let’s not celebrate every birthday and holiday with doughnuts and cupcakes. Let’s tell the teachers, tutors, and others to stop using sugar as an incentive or a reward. Let’s not trade sugary treats or junk food on market day. Let’s practice what we teach about good health and nutrition.
There weren’t that many parents at the PTA meeting, and no teachers, but the principal was there. Many of the parents were in total agreement and enthusiastic about the idea. One mom, a teacher in another school district, said they had done this at her school and she thought it was very successful. She said that they now celebrate birthdays by making birthday cards, and that the kids don’t miss the sugar at all.
After our discussion I asked the question, “So what can we do?” I was told by the PTA president and the principal that this needs to be a grass roots campaign and that we (my friend and I) should try to persuade parents to not bring in sugar for birthdays or market days. The principal said she would talk to the teachers. We were told we could work with the communications chairperson on this. Then our time was up.
Hmmmm… Did we get a big brush-off or did we get a green light? I was confused.
I didn’t want this to turn into a big project, and a “grass roots effort” sounded just like that. I would have much preferred it if they had said, “Hey, great idea! That makes perfect sense! Let’s tell teachers and parents not to give our kids sugar without parental consent. Let’s update the handbook and the website and send a notice home with the kids.” Darn it.
But change is never that easy is it? And, like I said, our relationship with sugar is complicated. Adults love giving kids sugar.
So I’m not sure what’s next. I hope that when we meet with the communications chairperson that we can at least start a campaign in the fall and make some persuasive posters and flyers that support our cause. I’ll try and get some more parents on board. I honestly don’t think the kids would miss the sugar at all, and I think the parents would be relieved to not feel obliged to bring in birthday treats. We’ll see.
Wish me luck! And if you know anything about getting sugar out of schools, I would love to hear about it.
And look at this awesome care package I got yesterday from my parents. Belgian chocolate, yum! The kids were thrilled. Me too.