Why Banning Foods in Schools Sends Kids the Wrong Message

by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on May 13, 2011

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This week the LA Times ran this article about how some school districts are considering banning chocolate milk. This is not the first time specific foods have been banned to help fight childhood obesity. We’ve seen everything from banning the sale of homemade goods in New York to “sweet-free” zones and “no second helpings” in Minnesota.

I’ve been thinking about this banning business for some time now and cringe every time I hear about it being used as a strategy to help kids eat well. It’s not that proponents of these ban don’t have some points, it’s the message banning food sends to kids that bothers me:

We can’t trust you around these foods, you are helpless to their allure.

Eating just one less-than-perfect food is bad for health and weight.

Be afraid kids, be very afraid.

Why fear and food don’t mix

When we teach kids that some foods are “bad,” it’s very conflicting to them. One the one hand they enjoy these foods, but on the other hand, they keep hearing how bad they are for them. How many adults feel these same feelings of conflict: “I know I shouldn’t eat dessert but I can’t help myself.”

In some kids, but not all, banning and making single foods out to be bad make them even more attractive. The topic of banning chocolate milk came up on one of my nutrition list serves and dietitian Rosanne Rust, author of Restaurant Calorie Counter for Dummies, summed my thoughts on this perfectly:

Even though many seem to think we aren’t getting anywhere with the concept of “moderation”, I don’t think we should give up trying to teach people how to choose proper portions of imperfect foods in the proper frequency. Children particularly need to understand this concept. Trying to create some sort of nutrition utopia for them isn’t going to help them make their own choices later in life.

Rosanne goes onto explain how she bans nothing in her home of 3 active boys. Her children get the choice of 1% white, chocolate or strawberry milk at home. Her kids choose white most of the time, but have the choice and enjoy the flavored milk occasionally. They are also allowed to eat some packaged snacks and even Pop Tarts on occasion because she finds that what teens can’t get at home they seek out at neighbors’ homes, and possibly resent their parents for never buying them anything “good”.

She also feeds her kids lots of fresh food – they are offered vegetables daily, eat fruit daily and they prefer whole grain breads and cereals. They enjoy the harvest of the family’s summer vegetable garden and help gather eggs every day from their six backyard hens.

“The whole idea of ‘banning’ food choices frustrates me because I happen to believe that children need to learn to make good choices independently,” she says. “Making balanced choices takes guidance from a parent initially, but every time these types of ‘rules’ are made, the choice is made for them, taking away the opportunity to learn how to balance ‘treat foods’ with more wholesome ones.”

A better alternative?

Jill Castle, MS, RD helped re-vamp the food offerings of the cafeteria program at a private school in Tennessee. She said some parents wanted to get rid of the chocolate milk but instead, after hearing about the pros and cons, decided to offer it once a week.

After sales of milk went way down, they decided to offer chocolate milk twice a week and everyone ended up pleased with the result.

“I don’t agree with vilifying any food because of the message it sends to kids, ” Jill says. “Ban chocolate milk because it is bad.”

This a great idea — offering items like chocolate milk less often or on certain days. This way, kids learn how all foods fit into a balanced diet.

And we can’t forget foods items like chocolate milk offer vital nutrition too — and some kids simply don’t like the taste of milk.  For more on this topic see this post. 

Shelley Rael, MS, RD hated milk growing up but never had the choice of chocolate milk or even calcium supplements (her doctor thought they were only for old ladies).  Now at the age of 41, she goes between osteopenia (low bone mass) and osteoporosis on her scans. 

“So, I do not agree with chocolate milk being banned,” she says. “If I had it I would have consumed it.”

What do you think about these food bans? Anything heating up in your area??

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Tanya May 13, 2011 at 8:32 am

I think those bans aim to make the healthy choice the easy choice. I don’t think kids will be afraid or feel self-conscious if there isn’t chocolate milk at school the next day. That might be a bit of a stretch. I agree that there needs to be other programs, education and advocacy to help our families make healthy choices, but I also see nothing wrong with providing only the best for our kids. Sure, some kids don’t like the taste of milk, but does that mean that every one of them will have bone density issues? No, I don’t think so. I’d bet that’s pretty rare, considering several members of my family don’t like milk or are even lactose and are healthy.

Kids will try new things and get a taste for them if it’s available and they see their peers eating them. Is water not an available at schools? I don’t think sugar and artificial ingredients is the only option for picky eaters. If you’re willing to jump to conclusions about the implications of no chocolate milk in schools (adults don’t trust them, etc) then maybe you’d try a few conclusions for kids who have to have everything sweetened and processed because they “don’t like” the alternative. Maybe the middle ground is no chocolate milk in elementary schools, but older kids have the option (thereby giving them an opportunity to get used to milk and make the healthy choice in the future). All this is in response to the chocolate milk change – I don’t know much about the other bans being considered though. I agree that some bans could take it pretty far. I disagree, though, that a milk-only cafeteria would result in low bone density, fearfulness and self-conscious children.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD May 13, 2011 at 9:30 am

Thanks for your comment Tanya — this post is not so much about chocolate milk but the need to “ban” foods from schools. I understand that we want good choices in front of our kids most the time which is why looking at how often we offer them, to me, is a better way of going about it. The example of the women who has bone problems is that for some, chocolate milk may be a good choice (or even supplements). It’s not to scare anyone….just offering some other perspectives. Thanks for joining the conversation!

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jj May 13, 2011 at 9:05 am

I’m usually nodding my head when I read through your posts, but I have to say I completely disagree with this one.

It is our responsibility to provide nutritious options to our children and not offering a sugary drink for lunch everyday is one way to do that.

While I don’t tell my daughter foods are “good” or “bad”, I only offer her foods at home that I feel are nutritious. She has treats here and there, but I don’t think that I will ever get to a point where I consistently offer her a “good” and “bad” choice and let HER decide. That’s MY responsibility as a parent to help her form healthy eating habits by exposure to healthy foods, allowing her to eat when she’s hungry and stop when she’s full, etc.

We don’t drink flavored milk and I don’t see why I would offer it at home for my daughter. I abide by the 80-20 rule, so if she happened to drink chocolate milk at her friend’s house, that would fall into the 20% for me.

I also disagree that offering chocolate milk is the only alternative for calcium for children who don’t like the taste of milk. Cheese, yogurt, leafy greens are other alternatives for this as well. I agree with the PP that the solution for picky eaters isn’t to load them up with sugary alternatives out of fear for bone density issues later in life.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD May 13, 2011 at 9:33 am

Thanks for the comment JJ — we don’t have to always agree. I make sure to give my daughter sweets she likes a couple of times per week. I also like to eat them. I grew up where these foods were scarce with many siblings and it became a bit of a obsession for me later. As I showed in my managing sweets series, I believe this is important to do as kids need to learn how to balance all foods. Like I said, I would rather see such foods offered less often than completely banned.

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Maybe I'm Crazy... May 13, 2011 at 9:32 am

I say ban it. Statistic after statistic confirms we have serious health problems on our hands – and sugar/corn syrup are among the worst offenders. Schools shouldn’t sell stuff to kids that may literally kill them. Further, there’s evidence that a) protein is more important that calcium in bone strength and b) cow’s milk is associated with higher diabetes risk. My older daughter doesn’t like milk, and drinks very little of it, yet is 95%ile for height and healthy and strong.

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Dana Woldow May 13, 2011 at 9:34 am

Another option is to try to make chocolate milk healthier, so that it is a choice that schools can feel good about offering. School districts are big customers of their local dairies, and they have considerable clout. Why not use that clout to demand that the dairy dial back the amount of sugar added to their chocolate milk? There are dairies which make chocolate milk by adding as much as 14g extra sugar to plain milk, which already has 14g naturally occurring sugar, for a whopping total of 28g total sugar per 8 oz serving. But more and more dairies around the country are reducing the added sugar in their chocolate milk to 6-8g, for a total sugar content of 20-22g per 8 oz., and there is no reason why they can’t go even lower. A chocolate milk sweetened with just 4g added sugar (16 extra calories) is still appealing to a child who doesn’t like the taste of plain milk, and those 16 extra calories are not going to ruin anyone’s health.

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sallyjrw May 13, 2011 at 10:01 am

I agree that teaching kids how to make healthy choices is important. But inside the public school system there is no one guiding these children. So unless the parents are providing that at home then they’re left on their own to decide what to eat.
Now I’m not blaming parents. For the majority of human history, parents didn’t have to worry about junk food. Heck, the idea of public school is pretty modern in history. But I digress.
There’s plenty of places outside of school that kids can choose unhealthy items. School lunches should be nutritious. Especially because after lunch they go back to class where they need to stay focused. Food plays an important part in mood.

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Ashley Rosales, RD May 13, 2011 at 10:05 am

I completely agree Maryann…you are sharing a great perspective. I think banning foods puts us on a slippery slope, one that we may not be able to dig ourselves out of. If we ban chocolate milk, what’s next? Do we then ban brown sugar on oatmeal, or even jam on toast? It’s completely normal to want to enjoy a little sweetness as a way to consume nutrient-rich foods. And at the end of the day, it’s all about learning how to make the right choices in a way that is sustainable for lifelong habits.

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Lisa {smart food and fit} May 13, 2011 at 10:12 am

Great post. I can see the pro’s and con’s of the banning chocolate milk in schools. Luckily my kids don’t care for chocolate milk, they think it’s too sweet. Though I do buy chocolate soy milk as a treat occasionally. I think education is key for teachers, parents, and children and labeling foods as good or bad is not the answer. I agree with Tanya, that chocolate milk should be banned in elementary schools. I feel at this young age kids should get as much exposure to REAL food. It goes beyond just the chocolate milk in schools, it’s about getting real hands on nutrition education programs to the families. In March I did a presentation for my son’s 3rd grade class. I had them write down a list of fluids they drink on a regular basis and I had visuals so they can write down the quantities. Then we had a food scale and weighed out the sugars in one serving of chocolate milk, juice, 100% juice, soda pop, milk, and water. It was interesting to see how much sugar the kids were drinking. The teacher couldn’t believe how many students admit to drinking sugar juice drinks and pop on a daily basis at home. I’m not quite sure if the ban will have an impact or not. It comes down to nutrition education geared towards teachers, parents and students.

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AndreaG_RD May 13, 2011 at 10:20 am

I would like to see the discussion around childrens’ health in school extend beyond “banning” foods. People always end up in the “good” or “bad” dialogue and, frankly, for every pro there can easily be a con for many foods. I would like to see schools and parents pushing for more class time to teach kids about nutrition! And, how about recess before lunch so that kids don’t skip their lunches for extra playtime and longer lunch periods so that kids can finish eating. I wish these issues were as important to parents as this or that food.

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Amy's Cooking Adventures May 13, 2011 at 10:29 am

I too was frustrated when I heard about the chocolate milk bans. When I was growing up, we had chocolate milk on Fridays (maybe every other Friday?) All the kids were super excited when Fridays rolled around but were fine fine drinking regular milk the rest of the time.

I think a bigger issue are the parents who send their children with whole bags of potato chips for snack

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Maureen Bligh May 13, 2011 at 10:41 am

In the end what we really want is for kids to choose healthy foods. If we make all the decisions for them, we are selling them short. I am more in favor of organizing the cafeteria in a way that encourages healthy choices.

The Center for Behavioral Economics and Childhood Nutrition at Cornell University is doing some interesting work to provide schools with research-based solutions to encourage healthier eating in the lunchroom, while maintaining participation and revenue for the school lunch program. Its “smarter lunchroom initiative” shows how measures as simple as spotlighting healthy food and moving less healthy choices into dim lights can help cafeterias sell more healthy food.

When foods are banned, they become more desirable. The truth is our culture offers the opportunity for many food indulgences. Our kids need to learn how to navigate it. Prohibition didn’t work, I don’t think banning sugar will either.

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Erica Schaub, (soon to be RN) May 13, 2011 at 12:36 pm

I don’t think we should BAN things from school, unless they are detrimentally harmful (guns, knives, drugs). Some think reading “Harry Potter” should be banned, and I think that’s horrible. What I think a lot of schools could benefit from is a moderation overhaul. Chocolate milk is good sometimes, not all the time. Just like candy is ok sometimes, not all the times. The problem with these processed foods is that our bodies have evolved to seek out high fat and high sugar foods, and have not regulated to deal with the upsurge in corn syrup/sugar/unhealthy fats in the past century. Instead of focusing on banning foods, we should be focusing on creative ways to provide a fresh variety of foods that kids will eat. It doesn’t have to be chocolate milk and pizza every day. One day a week could be chocolate milk with chicken pasta salad and another day could be pizza with regular milk. And 3 other days of a variety of foods. The point is for us to not make a big deal about it and not just “force-feed” our food issues into our children.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD May 13, 2011 at 2:44 pm

You said it well Erica. We can make positive changes without banning!

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Beth Hirsch May 13, 2011 at 3:40 pm

I think the problem is that this is being turned into a distracting political issue rather than a common sense health issue. I understand the authors point about children feeling denied could cause a back lash. The simple answer is to stop calling it a BAN!!! So negative!!! Why can’t it be that we just decide not to serve it anymore or only serve it once a week (like on Fridays.) Not forbidden, just not so available. IMO, this is all rhetoric designed by those that have the most to lose if the “Ban” occurs. I expose my daughter to most things. She has had chocolate milk before, but very occassionally as a treat. The rest of the time she drinks reg milk and enjoys it. But I fear that soon that will change once she starts school unless the flavored milk issue is solved. The milk is not the only issue. The whole school lunch program needs to be revamped, but change is slow. We have to begin somewhere. Making unhealthy products less available is a great start. Schools should set the example and help teach kids good habits. This helps back up us parents who are working hard at home on this and also helps those parents that have more of challenge with the issue.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD May 13, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Sorry I’m having trouble responding to individual comments unless I catch them right away.
I understand what you are saying Beth and are thinking isn’t so far off. It’s the act of the ban that sends the wrong message. Ideas like offering chocolate milk less often, or even changing formulations as someone else mentioned, are much better ideas.

I don’t think school lunches are as bad as people think. They have pretty strict nutrition guidelines to follow which are only getting tougher. I write about this here http://www.raisehealthyeaters.com/2009/12/what-nobody-tells-parents-about-school-lunch/
Yes, it will be nice if they can make more stuff from scratch but they are low on resources. Many of the food service directors I’ve talked to work very hard and are doing great jobs working within such constraints.

The work Brian Wansink is doing, with the Smarter Lunchrooms is the kind of innovation we need — and they have good data to show that it works. http://smarterlunchrooms.org/case_studies.html Having kids make the choice on their own, without bans, empowers them to make good decisions.

I plan to write a follow-up post on why good/bad food thinking is so detrimental. Some of it is based on my experience counseling adults but a big part if it is based on research.

For example, at my daughter’s preschool someone brings in sweets every time it’s someone’s birthday which ends up being quite often. I plan to approach the director with the idea of having one party (and sweets) every month for kids born in that month. I feel like this would be accepted by the kids and a better solution than asking them to stop the sweets. I, too, don’t love how much of this stuff is around, which is exactly why I want to teach my kids how to eat them.

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Beth Hirsch May 13, 2011 at 7:40 pm

I looked at your links Maryann. Really wonderful stuff, unfortunatly, Los Angeles Unified School Districts are NOT participating, at least not right now. Their school lunch offerings are an obomination. Almost all prepackaged, starch, mystery fillers, fat, oil, sugar, artificial colors and flavors. A nightmare. Any school, or parent that tries to do anything to improve the quality is shut down immediately!! Even if it meets all the requirments and is free or cheaper than what they are already doing. They seem much more concerned about protecting their contracts with these food companies then they do about kids health. Truely sad and disgusting. Also, 10- 15 mins for lunch !?! That’s a whole other subject.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD May 14, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Actually, they have to participate in order to get reimbursed from the government for free lunches. That is probably why they want to keep their vendors — they understand their needs for lower fat cheese etc. I know quality might be an issue but the food should meet the standards. Just not very visually appealing.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD May 14, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Christine — the purpose of my post was to talk about the banning of food but I personally don’t consider chocolate milk an unhealthy item like cake or cookies, which offer no other nutrition benefit. Chocolate milk is milk with added sugar very similar to sweetened yogurt. Of course, plain milk is better but many consider chocolate milk a valuable source of nutrition.

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EA-The Spicy RD May 14, 2011 at 9:13 am

Thanks for posting on this because it is such a big issue right now. We are looking at this in our school district right now as part of a whole re-vamping of the entire school lunch program (which unfortunately is pretty bad). I agree that we need to be teaching our children how to enjoy treats in moderation as opposed to banning certain foods. I do think it’s sad though when parents say there is no way there kids will drink plain milk. Have they ever given them that chance? My kids do enjoy chocolate milk, but they also like plain milk as well. I agree with Jill that maybe offering chocolate milk a couple of times a week is a good compromise, and this is what we are leaning towards proposing at my children’s school district.

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Christine May 14, 2011 at 10:42 am

I think there’s a difference between banning something and just not serving it. By just providing plain milk, it send the appropriate health message that plain milk is for everyday consumption and chocolate milk is a treat and should be reserved as such. Most places that are banning chocolate milk are just banning it from being served/endorsed as a lunch product. THey’re not banning a child from drinking it if they brought their own or after school. When I was a kid I think they reserved chocolate milk for fridays. This seems reasonable or twice a month. But it sends kids the wrong message to provide them with unhealthy choices every day rather than setting them up to succeed and putting treats in their rightful place – as an occasional thing, not a daily staple.

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goodfountain May 14, 2011 at 7:19 pm

I’m one of those parents who considers chocolate milk a valuable source of nutrition. I have one daughter who cannot have any dairy, and so she drinks chocolate rice milk. Plain rice milk (i.e. unsweetened) does not taste good as a beverage (it’s fine on cereal). I have only recently found a calcium supplement that does not make her constipated, so her only source of calcium (for quite some time) was that one cup of chocolate rice milk daily. (Please don’t anyone tell me kale is a good source of calcium – not for a 6 yr old!)

As for banning, I agree with your stance wholeheartedly Maryann. I am kind of curious to look at our school district’s lunch menu. I pack my girl’s lunch every day so I’ve never even seen what’s on it. I have no idea if it’s horrible or not.

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Natalie /Ambrolio Foods May 15, 2011 at 8:53 pm

As a society we are inundated with foods that contain an overabundance of sugar, fat and salt. Chocolate milk happens to fall into the “too much sugar” camp.

Chocolate milk contains slightly more than 2.5 teaspoons of ADDED SUGAR PER 8 OUNCE SERVING.

If a student has one carton of chocolate milk every school day (180 days per school year) that totals 450 teaspoons of added sugar per school year.

450 teaspoons of added sugar x 13 school years = 5850 teaspoons of added sugar from kindergarten to grade 12.

Per student, this equals 122 cups of added sugar total, OR almost 9.5 cups of added sugar per school year.

The alarming piece is that this is only one drink item during one meal – it does not include the possibility that flavored milk might be offered for breakfast, too. OR take into account any other processed foods served at school that also contain excess sugar ( or fat and salt).

Perhaps the word “ban” is too strong. I prefer to use the word “gatekeeper.”

Being a gatekeeper means that schools should provide the most wholesome food options available. This means reducing the reliance on chocolate milk and moving toward low fat white milk or water.

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Sarah Mathot May 17, 2011 at 1:26 pm

What a great dialogue and I have to agree that banning foods at school or home will most likely do more harm than good in the long run. We all know of the many diets out there that ban certain foods and yet we are more unhealthy and overweight than we have ever been before. Educating kids to make healthy choices rather than banning foods at a young age will benefit their long term relationship with food. How confused will they be as adults when they have a wide variety of foods to choose from?

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sallyjrw May 17, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Are you really arguing verbiage? If a food item is currently being served and its decided to stop serving it, well that sounds pretty close to ban. And just because something is banned from the school cafeteria doesn’t mean its no longer available outside the school setting. So comparing school lunch (and breakfast) to a diet where you ban foods is inaccurate. Heck, I’ve been reading about various diets that have strict rules for some meals and lax rules for others (such as vegan before 6 pm) that can work because you’re not completely eliminating foods you love. There are lots of food items that are never served in public schools. I don’t see how removing unhealthy choices is controversial.
Kids gravitate towards the food they grew up eating. Why are macaroni and cheese and meat loaf are considered comfort foods? Because most Americans grew up eating those foods on a regular basis. Personally I’d like to see foods specific mandates. For example: a list of 30 fruits and vegetables that must be served at least once. The only vegetables my husband will eat are green beans, peas, carrots, and corn. He doesn’t like drinking water. Schools shouldn’t have to cater to food indulgences, there’s enough of that in society.

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Christina May 20, 2011 at 7:29 am

There is a very important issue that is being overlooked here, and it is that sugar and simple carbs are highly addictive for some people. I know this from personal experience, and it was only when I completely stopped eating sweets a year ago that I felt in control of my own food choices. For those who do not have an addictive physiological response to sugars, this may sound far-fetched, but the evidence is mounting in support of carb addiction for a subset of the population.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17617461

http://www.springerlink.com/content/ru41537144041287/

http://journals.lww.com/co-gastroenterology/Abstract/2010/03000/Food_addiction__true_or_false_.16.aspx

I have two young children, a son who self-regulates his food choices (much like his father) and doesn’t obsess over sweets, and a daughter who is constantly thinking about food, asking for snacks, and occasionally sneaking food. It upsets me to think that she will battle cravings and potential for disordered eating behavior as she grows up because she is constantly being bombarded with access to unhealthy, sugar-laden foods.

I used to agree with the standard-issue advice for “moderation”, but for many carb addicts in our society it is just not reasonable to ask them to eat sweets in moderation. For them sugar is a drug that causes a physiological response much like heroin, and simply asking them to use it occasionally is ridiculous. Providing high-sugar, nutritionally-poor choices like corn syrup laden chocolate milk at school reinforces the idea that these treats have a place in a healthy diet, and for many people that is not the case.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD May 20, 2011 at 8:02 am

Christina,

Thanks for your comment. Food addiction is a very controversial topic among health professionals. I, too, used to think I was addicted to sugar because of my behavior — If I had one cookie I’d have to have the whole box and I was VERY preoccupied with food. Interestingly, once I changed the way I viewed food I was then able to eat moderately.

I recommend you read some of the non-diet resources out there such as Intuitive Eating and Michelle Maye’s Eat What You Love and Love What You Eat. There is actually a good amount of evidence that shows how we think about food drives our eating more than what is actually in the food. I plan to write more about this in the future.

Evelyn Tribole, author of Intuitive Eating, wrote this very thoughtful article on food addiction http://www.intuitiveeating.org/content/can-you-really-be-addicted-food I believe that anything can become addtictive, especially food which is widely available. But I have also seen countless people learn how to eat food in moderation after believing they were addicted. We don’t have all the answers — a very intersting topic indeed.

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sallyjrw May 20, 2011 at 8:46 am

I’m in the middle of reading the book “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite” by David Kessler. The author talks about how people get addicted to food and how to face and overcome food struggles. I clicked on the Intuitive Eating link and while I didn’t peruse any other posts I don’t think a simple “don’t ban foods, just enjoy them in moderation” statement is the answer for people struggling with overeating.

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Christina May 20, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Thanks so much for addressing my comment. It’s true that food/sugar addiction is a controversial topic, and one that will not be resolved without much more research.

I have actually read the books that you recommended, and I read Evelyn Tribole’s article. My problem is this: they all assume that overeating is a behavioral problem and do not address basic brain physiology. Specifically, Ms. Tribole’s article repeatedly argues that dopamine can be triggered by other pleasurable activities, and that it could be attributed to Pavlovian conditioning, which is the anticipation of a reward. But this is the textbook definition of addiction. When we consume any substance that increases the level of dopamine in our brain, the body responds by decreasing endogenous dopamine production. Therefore, we need more and more of the substance (whether drug or food) to elicit the same pleasurable response.

Another concern with Ms. Tribole’s article is that the author is a “Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor”, which might bias her interpretation of the studies. Her job depends on it. My education and training are in biology, and my husband teaches behavior, physiology, and neuroendrocrinology, so obviously I am biased towards physiological explanations for behavior rather than cognitive science. Time and again, studies have shown shown that behavioral modification in the treatment of overweight and obesity is ineffective in the long term, despite the overwhelming number of self-help books on intuitive eating that claim the opposite. By far, the best analysis of the scientific literature on obesity research is Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories, which has an extensive bibliography of peer-reviewed publications on this topic.

All of this being said, the most important (and least controversial) aspect of this discussion is the simple fact that sugar is profoundly bad for us. It is nutritionally bereft, causes insulin spikes that over time can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes, and it is completely unnecessary for human life. Is this something we should be feeding to our kids at school, where they are left on their own to make “good” choices? Very few adults are capable of impulse control and moderation when faced with bad food choices, so why do we think that our children will be able to do better?

Finally, the comment that “if we don’t give our kids sugar, they’ll just get it at a friend’s house” implies that it’s okay to give our kids things that are bad for them, even if those things could kill them, or else they’ll just get them somewhere else. We wouldn’t apply that same logic to alcohol or drugs, but instead educate our kids about the dangers of making unhealthy choices. Providing sugary treats in schools implies that they are acceptable choices, even if they are offered every day.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD May 21, 2011 at 7:22 am

Thanks Christina,

I appreciate your thoughtful comment. I understand the science on both ends and don’t believe we have to choose one side or the other. But I have to disagree with you that sugar in moderate amounts is dangerous for people and that everyone has a problem with it. I for one know countless adults (and kids) who successfully eat sweet foods in moderation. I happen to be one of them.

The problem with sugar as addiction is the solution does not work — avoidance. Research shows that restricting kids access to palatable foods increases their desire for it. The feeding style most tied to a normal weight in kids is a moderate one what we call “authoratative.” And the one most tied to overweight is either permissive (let kids eat whatever they want) or authoratarian (too restrictive).
See this article for more inforation http://justtherightbyte.com/2010/10/14/whats-your-feeding-style/

The literature does not support eliminating kids access to sweet foods — and I have talked with the top experts in this area. For more see this article http://www.raisehealthyeaters.com/2010/09/managing-sweets-part-3-want-to-raise-a-sweet-obsessed-kid-do-these-8-things/ And the research does not show that dieting for adults is effective long-term which, as we know, is all about favorite food avoidance.

What is completely left out of research such as Taubes and Kessler’s, is the psychological aspects of eating. Why is it that other countries, like France, can eat indulgent foods high in sugar and fat and not have the weight problems we do? Why is that back in the 50′s when kids were drinking Koolaid and having dessert every night we didn’t have weight problems?

The WAY we eat has changed, not just WHAT we eat. Too many researchers focus on the substances in food than these other components — which are so much easier to put into practice than avoidance. And that is why I plan on writing an article about these other factors.

Last but not least, I do not advocate excessive sugar in diets. My whole focus on this article is the need to BAN any food, instead of just serving it less often. I try to keep my intake low and that of my kids. But we enjoy things like cookies and ice cream a couple of times per week. I believe it is my job to teach my kids how to eat all foods. I believe they will be better off this way than making a big deal out of sweets and not allowing them to have them at all.

And food will never be like drugs, alcohol or smoking because it is essential for life. And where do you draw the line on addiction — do people need to avoid the naturally occurring sugars in foods like fruits and dairy? What about when you eat sweets after a meal? The protein and fat in the meal will slow down the spike that is considered so bad, changing everything. It just doesn’t work the same way. Kessler is right, these foods are highly rewarding to humans and by trying to stay away form them, we only increase their power. I choose to include them — and enjoy them! And learning to enjoy them instead of making them the enemy, which I learned to do 15 years ago, was one of the most liberating experiences of my life.

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Mom101 May 21, 2011 at 3:25 pm

It sounds like the issue is with the word “ban.”

When we “replace” french fries with baked potato strips, or “replace” processed foods with less processed ones, no one suggests that it’s sending the wrong message.

Just a thought?

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD May 22, 2011 at 8:12 am

Mom101 — yes, it all has to do with our attitudes and actions around food. We can give all the attention to less desirable foods or we can keep a positive message about eating a majority of healthy foods.

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min May 28, 2011 at 1:00 am

I feel like, of course chocolate milk sells better. It’s tastier. If we dipped more food in sugar, those foods would probably sell better as well. Not all kids care for the taste of regular milk, true. I don’t think offering a sugared version is the answer.
Also, the idea that kids will seek out junk food at a neighbor’s house is a cop out. This sounds like giving up, which is a big problem parents face today.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD May 28, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Thanks for your comment Min. I think you are misunderstanding the intention of the article. The answer is not to give into kids and only give them junk or sweets but to ask ourselves what is the best way to handle nutrition-poor foods. Is it better to take away something like chocolate milk or offer it once or twice a week? Is it better to forbid your child from eating junk at his friends or let him know it’s okay to experiment? Then you can have an open dialogue about how he felt after eating that way.

How we handle nutrition-poor food choices makes a big difference in our child’s relationship with them. For example, my daughter got some skittles today after finishing swim class. Instead of taking them away from her and saying “no, these are bad for you.” I told her she can try them (she’s never had them). After lunch she had them and after a few decided they weren’t that great. We talked how we eat these foods every so often but when we do eat them, we should enjoy them. I encourage her to be picky with candy. She prefers dark chocolate to skittles.

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katelyn h April 19, 2012 at 9:02 am

i think kids should eat what they want at school its there body’s and if they waana be fat let them its america land of the free and they should be free to eat as they wish

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Anna June 23, 2014 at 4:28 pm

I wish candy was banned at schools. Because it was available, I thought it wasn’t too horrible for me. My parents never really taught me how to make good healthy food choices, because they got caught up in the American junk food diet when we first emigrated to America. Also they fought a lot, so I stopped communicating with them as a child and started rebelling. It was embarrassing at school because there were no healthy choices.. it was either you eat fast food or you eat candy/cokes.

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