Thursday, June 07, 2012

Guest Post: Cake Wars Rock Nova Scotia Schools

There are cake wars in Nova Scotia.

On the one side is Nova Scotia's school food policy that specifically advises schools not to fund raise with junk food. On the other side is Ms. Pamela Lovelace who believes that schools have no business in banning specific foods and that,

"Quite frankly, it's up to the parents to determine whether or not we want to allow our kids candy."
Now I've covered why I think the but parents can just say "NO" argument falls short before - instead today we have a much more civil discussion from my colleagues Drs. Sara Kirk, Tarra Penney and Jessie-Lee McIssac out of Dalhousie University and their Applied Research Collaborations for Health (ARCH).
Let’s stop fighting about cake and focus on what’s important!

Sara Kirk, Tarra Penney and Jessie-Lee McIssac

In 1986, Canada became a world leader as the home of the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, a landmark international agreement that sought to build healthy public policy and create supportive environments for health. This culmination of evidence and call for action acknowledges the powerful role that our own individual circumstances play in our ability to live healthy, rich lives. It is based on the notion that, as a society, we thrive or wane together and it provides recommendations to ensure that our citizens, families and children have the best chance to create wellness for themselves by providing the best possible environment for them to live, work and play. Although the charter itself remains a long way from its goal of “health for all by 2000”, in 2005, Nova Scotia became recognised across Canada and internationally for its leadership in creating a Food and Nutrition Policy for Nova Scotia Public Schools. Rooted in evidence and community consultation, the policy is designed to protect school environments from the constant barrage of cheap, nutritionally void, highly processed foods that challenge us all in our decisions to make healthy choices and engage in healthy behaviours. Given that Nova Scotians are among the least healthy in the country – with high rates of chronic disease, the highest proportion of individuals with multiple chronic conditions and high rates of food insecurity - it could be argued that we are desperate for environments that make being healthy a little easier, and why not start with our children? Our schools?

In the province, a weekend school fundraiser, and the resulting media coverage (and a video here), has raised questions regarding the interpretation of the policy for Nova Scotian schools. The criticisms put forward highlight how much work still needs to be done to ensure that parents, families and citizens understand the difficult choices we need to make as a society in order to create the supportive environments necessary to make the healthy choice the easy choice, especially in places where our children spend significant amounts of their time. The policy challenges us as parents and citizens to come up with innovative ways to combine tradition, health and fun in ways that will set up the next generation of citizens for life-long health. The policy sets an important precedent that schools are one place where we can help our children to learn about healthy eating and active living and model these behaviours. We need to recognise that supporting healthy behaviours could actually save lives and money, as well as helping our children to succeed. Why would we not want this for our children? As a colleague who works in school health so eloquently put it, “it’s amazing that some people will put up such resistance to offering healthy food choices to our students…when it is the right thing to do”.

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  1. Anonymous9:41 am

    I fully agree that fundraisers should be with healthy offerings. My niece's school used to fundraise by selling chocolate bars and as there was a competition of who could sell the most boxes we would always buy a box from her. We end consuming a few bars while giving the rest away to friends and coworkers who in turn consume a few bars just because they have them and not really because they wanted it. The same holds true for the cupcake fundraiser. People will end up eating them just because. If someone really wants to eat chocolate or cupcakes or whatever other indulgence they can but it should be more of a choice versus because it is just around. Most people succumb to temptation so why would we want to tempt our kids and family with something unhealthy?

  2. My high school always sold citrus as a fundraiser. It was a lot of fun, made a LOT of money, and that was the first time I ever actually ate a grapefruit (like an orange) and enjoyed it. I don't see anything wrong with cupcake wars, but I think you could do a lot of more healthy things - fruit/vegetable sculptures and creations - that still involve creativity and beauty and competition.

  3. Anonymous1:15 pm

    The good:
    Nova Scotia has a School Food and Nutrition policy that approaches school health and wellbeing in a comprehensive, evidence-based manner. Well done.

    The bad:
    Ms. Lovelace's misguided, and frankly - embarassing, rants about "cakes", "cake-gate" and the nanny-state. Really? Are we to believe that she is a credible resource for health, healthy eating, or school-related health policy for one of Canada's unhealthiest provinces?

    The evidence is profound. Healthy school environments enable children to thrive - academically, socially, emotionally and physically. A healthy school environment does not pit fundraising goals against children's health.

    The Nova Scotia School Food and Nutrition policy is not about "policing" what parents offer their children in their own time. This is a greater dialogue about the type of school environment that the Government of Nova Scotia is willing to create. I applaud the Government for their role in creating this type of environment and requesting for schools to think outside the box on the appropriateness of minimally nutritious food for school fundraising.

  4. Yoni, your very first sentence is incorrect. Schools are permitted to fundraise with foods of minimum nutrition. The Education Minister blames staff for the communication error:

    - - -

    Thank you for addressing this very important issue. I am pleased at the response my stand has taken. Parents, teachers, administrators, researchers and government have all been talking about the need to offer and support healthy eating, not just in schools but throughout society. This has been the icing on my cake!

    The Minister of Education, (yes, the same Minister who falsely suggested that eating sugar causes diabetes), only two days before the Province released a provincial obesity strategy, backtracked and agreed with my stand, pulling the supposedly non-permitted cakes and sweets from the prohibited list. Seems strange to me at how skewed this government is... they are spending millions on consultants, and yet there's no money for additional gym teachers.

    Dr. Kirk and I agree on many points, and those who know me, are well aware of the healthy eating and growing that takes place in our home and my work with the Ecology Action Centre, organic farms, grass-fed beef farmers and CBC's Land and Sea. Where we differ is on the fundamental rights and responsibilities of parents to administer food to their children. This issue is not about cake at all.

    For me, the issue is the broader control of government to intervene in the lives of families and communities. I am in full favour of healthy eating guidelines and am a past employee of Health Canada. My children are growing up on natural foods grown in our gardens, and on the farms in our area. However, to suggest that I fought a needless war is foolhardy.

    "Anonymous" above, is obviously too embarrassed to make his/her views known publicly, and would prefer to cowardly hide, whereas I have been honest and open about my opinions. You don't need to agree with me, but grant me my right to bake a cake and proudly sell it to raise money for the community playground. A homemade cake has never done anyone harm. Gluttony is our enemy, as is mental illness and eating disorders.

    The school was a rented facility for a community event that took place off school hours. It was a celebration, that is all.

    The government admitted that it's own Food Policy contradicted the school fundraising directives and agreed that it needs to be clearer. Bake sales are permitted.

    Perhaps you should consider revising your article, Yoni, to more accurately reflect the facts.

    1. The exact wording of the policy directives is as follows:

      5.1 Fundraising with food and beverages organized by and through schools will centre only on items of Maximum or Moderate Nutrition.

      6. Special Functions
      6.1 Food and beverages of Maximum and Moderate Nutrition will be offered during Special Functions. However, Special Functions may include items from the Minimum Nutrition list. Special Functions are events that may occur once or twice a month and include special occasions and in-school
      celebrations (e.g., parent-teacher night, Remembrance Day, school bazaar, Spring Fling, Halloween, Christmas bake sales)".

      The interpretation of the policy since it was introduced has been that, if a Spring Fling is a fundraiser for the school, it falls under directive 5, but it is rather ambigious, since a Spring Fling is also an example provided under 6. Many other schools in Nova Scotia have embraced the policy and provide healthy options at all school events – it takes a little imagination, but it can be done. Unfortunately, others still continue to promote unhealthy choices, with no corresponding balance of healthy choices. This is not in the spirit of directive 6, which states that healthier choices should also be provided.

      Therefore the fact remains that while our culture supports the unhealthy choice as the norm, and tax payers dollars go towards health care for diseases that are caused by unhealthy eating and physical inactivity, Governments have to intervene. But this is not about politics, it is about protecting our most vulnerable members of society. In a democratic society, you are, of course, entitled to your opinion, but that is all it is. Perhaps you would like to revise your opinion so that it more accurately reflects the facts?

  5. Anonymous9:10 am

    Again, your comments are misguided. The policy isn't about policing parental responsibility. It's about creating an environment in which healthy eating is the norm, where all children have the opportunity to be exposed. It's about normalizing healthy eating on school property and at school-sanctioned functions.
    You have just pointed out that YOU grow your own food, YOU bake homemade cakes and YOU model healthy eating in your own household. Even if you didn't do those things, this isn't about YOU. It's about collectively sharing the responsibility for health.

    As for your comments about "cowardly" hiding? I prefer to keep my professional/public and personal/private activities separate so those lines are not blurred. My name - affiliated with my credentials, community work, past and present employers and the like, need not be paraded on a blog.

    I remain,