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School and Allergies

Food in the Classroom

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The Institute of Medicine report also took aim at food sold to raise funds for schools, recommending it be curtailed. At the same time, a new bill that would amend the Child Nutrition Act to eliminate junk food from U.S. schools is gaining support in Congress.

Bill Jeffrey, national coordinator of the Canadian wing of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, wrote a response to the Institute of Medicine’s report, calling for Canada’s federal government to take serious leadership on school nutrition. “We don’t have a good snapshot of food in the schools nationally,” he says. “There needs to be a national approach to improving it.”

Indeed, there is a provincial patchwork approach to both food allergy and nutrition in the schools. “Things are changing with regard to improved nutrition,” says Dr. Peter Nieman, a Calgary pediatrician. “But they are changing too slowly.”

40% of Gade 5 pupils in Nova Scotia were overweight
or obese. Provincial policy now says food must be for
nourishment, not revenue. Deep fryers were banned.

One province showing leadership after a wakeup call is Nova Scotia. A 2003 study found more than 40 per cent of kids in Grade 5 to be overweight or obese, with poor kids more likely to be overweight, so the province decided that change had to come.

In 2006, it began phasing in (over three years) its Food and Nutrition Policy for Nova Scotia Public Schools. The policy states boldly that food must be for nourishment rather than revenue generation. It bans sports drinks and deep fryers from cafeterias, eliminates super-sized portions, and ranks foods (and when they’re allowed to be eaten) according to nutritional content.

Peter McLaughlin, spokesperson for the Department of Education, says schools expressed the greatest concerns with strict guidelines in the area of fundraising (no more cookie dough). To clarify, a comprehensive guide was created.

“We were helped by the warnings that this would be the first generation not to outlive their parents,” he says. At the same time, Nova Scotia is updating its anaphylaxis guidelines and undertaking more emergency training.

In Ontario, the food-in-the-class debates have been focused on compliance with Sabrina’s Law, the groundbreaking anaphylaxis legislation. But nutrition is also building as an issue.

In late 2004, the Ministry of Education released guidelines for school boards that targeted the sale of chips and chocolate bars in elementary school vending machines. School boards were advised to restrict snacks to those that are nutritious, including fruit cups and some types of granola bars, crackers and cookies. Lower-fat milk, water and 100 per cent fruit juice were recommended as beverages, and the guidelines are part of a broader health framework.

Meantime, British Columbia has similarly begun moving toward healthier eating habits. It is working with the school boards with the goal of eliminating junk food in the vending machines and cafeterias, and has introduced a program called Healthy Schools.

But beyond provincial or statewide policies, changing the dynamic of food in the class also comes down to a single school’s own initiative. In the case of one Mississauga, Ontario school, the approach to reducing allergens in the junior kindergarten is steeped in nutritional advantage.

St. Basil Elementary School implemented a fruits and veggies-only snack regime for its junior kindergarten pupils two years ago. This came about following discussions with a parent whose child had had an anaphylactic reaction. To make the classroom safe for that pupil, his teacher suggested this nutritious (if more limiting) solution. Clifford Read, the school’s principal, agreed.

“This was as controversial as anything I’ve done in this school,” he recalls. “Parents were saying ‘what about cheese and crackers?’ They felt we were judging them.

Next: New snack plans cause controversy

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