Singing the sweet free zone blues in St. Paul

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Students in Minnesota’s second-largest school district have limited time to tame their sweet tooth during regular school hours since all public schools in the St. Paul district will be “sweet free zones” by the end of this academic year. Once implemented, the St. Paul district will join a handful of other districts nationwide. Jean Ronnei, the district’s director of nutrition services, will be sending students, teachers and parents reminders that “sweet, sticky, fat-laden [and] salty treats” aren’t allowed during the school day.

“Hmm,” muses ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “I have two questions concerning this new policy: First, Ms. Ronnei’s definition seems fairly vague. So, is it safe to assume that Mars Bars will be banned, but Raisinets will be spared the guillotine? Second, what do salty treats have to do with the obesity problem — are we now addressing salt as a cause of obesity in 14 year olds? I guess a ban on trans-fats will be next.”

According to other opponents of the policy such as ACSH advisor Jim Tillotson, professor of nutrition policy at Tufts University, there exists little evidence that such blanket bans will work, and he further asserts that it is the role of the school to teach — not force — students to eat healthfully. Tillotson tells the Star Tribune that “silver-bullet” approaches such as this one often oversimplify the root causes of the nation’s extraordinarily high obesity rate.

ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan couldn’t agree more: “As I’ve said before, this is a simple solution to a very complex problem, and it will not work.”