Junk Food Banned From Schools, But Will It Help Fight Obesity?

In Food Policy This Week: 5 News Bites

A roundup of news clippings we're reading that affect the way we eat.


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Junk food has gotten a lot of press recently. The USDA just implemented a ban on selling junk foods in schools, including from cafeterias and vending machines. The ban was a provision of the politically popular 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which also included improved nutritional standards for school lunches and breakfasts.

The ban of junk food sales through school vending machines will affect kids in the coming 2013-14 school year. Instead of selling candy bars and sodas, schools will ideally vend healthier snacks like granola bars, juices, and whole grain products. The idea is that kids will develop healthier eating habits in school and maintain those habits for a lifetime—and maybe even pass on healthier eating patterns to their parents. But some opponents question whether this approach is effective, or if it will just result in lost revenue for the schools.

This announcement was well-timed with another high-profile article from Atlantic author David H. Freedman, who writes about the potential for junk food to actually end obesity. He argues that fast food companies are already noticing that customers want healthier options, and are adding lower-calorie versions of their dishes to menus across the country. He blasts the nation's "Pollanites" for blindly ascribing to a belief that locally-sourced vegetables can turn around the nation's obesity crisis. Instead of latching onto produce and whole grains as the only sustainable, healthy dietary choice, Freedman asks if moderately healthier junk food could help the nation collectively lose weight without spending a premium for more "wholesome" foods.

The school junk food ban, and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act as a whole, emerged partially as a result of Michelle Obama's campaign to end childhood obesity. This campaign is informed by the writings of Michael Pollan and other sustainable food advocates. But Freedman has a point when he writes that the lifestyle promoted by the "Pollanites" is often only accessible to families or individuals with enough income to afford expensive food. So where does this leave us?

Could healthier junk food or fast food provide an easy way to address the nation's rising obesity rates?

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her other work can be found at her website.