In the beginning of each year, schools generally send out announcements: please do not pack any sweets in your kid's school lunch.
While they are quite stern about their request and it's generally non-negotiable, some allow a "once in a while treat", which the child would only be able to consume later in the day at second interval.
This is not only common in South Africa, but in Europe too. So the following made us sit up and notice.
A UK mom packed in a chocolate slice (similar to a chocolate brownie) for her child's lunch at play school. When her child came home, she found a note from her daughter's teacher. The mom and her friend (Melinda Tankard Reist) were not pleased about the note and Reist shared the note on her Facebook wall. Many of Reist's followers were quite peeved as well. Here's the note ("kindy" refers to kindergarten):
Is their reaction justified?
There is the common wisdom that children who consume copious amounts of sugar – whether in the form of drinks, chips, sweets or chocolates – become hyperactive and find difficulty in concentrating, which in return distract other children in the classroom. In short, sugar is associated with a host of other behavioural problems.
But is there truth to these statements?
Is sugar really bad for concentration and behaviour?
While Yale Scientific states that there is no substantial evidence to support the claim that sugar leads to hyperactivity as such, it says sugar may influence behaviour because of an adrenaline spike. One doctor conducted another study in which he discovered if the subjects had cereal high in sugar, it would lead to drastic deterioration of their attention span, in comparison to subjects who had not eaten anything for breakfast or simply had a bowl of oats.
Plenty of parents, schools and even some healthcare professionals still believe there is a link between sugar and behavioural problems. Parents are continuously encouraged to give their children sweets in moderation, and ensure their children have healthy, balanced diets.
For the past few years, however, people have gone to the other extreme, especially with their kids' birthday parties – banning sugar altogether. The sugar-free party idea gained momentum and many a parent jumped on that band-wagon, proceeding to cheat their kids and all their guests out of a little sugar.
Parents have also started to use a sugar replacement, but this is considered even more dangerous and unhealthy.
But what about their physical health?
Put hyperactivity aside for a moment. South Africa continues to have an obesity problem which does not stop with the adults – kids are being affected in a big way, but what are we doing to curb it?
Teachers who issue "red cards" to parents who pack in unhealthy lunches for their kids is a great idea, because it generates awareness. The UK mom along with her friend display a rather unhealthy attitude to the note sent by the teacher. If it were me, while sending a sweet snack may not be a regular occurrence, the mere thought that my child's teacher was making her aware of healthy food choices at such a young age would evoke a response filled with gratitude instead of irritation or anger.
Generally children shouldn't be told what they can and cannot eat, but rather be made aware of how to eat and how to do so in a healthy way and in moderation. And urge them to engage in more physical activity, seeing that technology is at the forefront of every child's mind these days.