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Food policing is causing anxiety, not reducing children’s weight

By now we know that healthy eating leads to a healthy lifestyle. But have we taken being healthy to the extreme and is it doing children more harm than good?

Schoolyard lunch boxes used to be filled with chip packets, juice cartons, lollies and the odd piece of fruit. Friends would eagerly swap a ham and cheese sandwich for a chocolate bar Mum wouldn’t dare put into their own lunch box.

But swapping sandwiches for sweets seems to be a big no-no now, at least on some lunchtime playgrounds, as schools have introduced food policies that stop kids from bringing unhealthy lunches to school at all. This is no new concept, but it looks like such policies are causing anxiety among children and are leading to unhealthy relationships with food.

In her piece published by the Sydney Morning Herald, Kasey Edwards remarks about how some schools ask their students to show what’s in their lunch boxes to their classmates each morning. She makes mention of other schools that have what she calls “Food Police” making sure the likes of a chocolate bar or snake lollies can’t even be taken onto the grounds.

Children are filled with fear and anxiety at the thought of bringing “bad” food to school, one child being so fearful, he doesn’t even want to go to school at all.

While the intention is clearly to pass on healthy lifestyle choices to children through knowledge about good food choices, surely schools making decisions for them, and prohibiting certain foods altogether, not only leads to anxiety around certain foods, but also creates a desire for the prohibited foods. Unbelievably, junk food is even being sold on the schoolyard black market.

According to the National Health Survey, it was estimated that 30 per cent of children and young people were overweight or obese in Australia. There’s no discounting the fact that obesity is a big problem in Australia, and educating children about healthy food and lifestyle factors are the way to go.

But shaming children for having the “wrong” food in their lunch boxes is sure to cause anxiety or even cause children to gravitate towards what they’re not allowed to have.

Research from the U.S. has found that food policies haven’t resulted in a lower rate of childhood obesity. If anything, children are developing anxieties around food and even fear certain foods as a result, possibly leading to eating disorders.

Publicly shaming children in front of their peers and saying their food choices are wrong encourages them to hide their eating practices. It means kids are more likely to binge eat when no one is looking. If we really want children to make better food choices, then allow them to make the decisions for themselves after they’ve been given the tools and the knowledge to do so.

While schools may mean well, it’s entirely likely they are actually contributing to the problem of unhealthy eating practices and are doing more harm than good.

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