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Is a Cupcake Ban in Schools a Bad Idea?


The fun police seem to be on patrol in Edmonds School District, a suburb of Seattle, where parents are no longer allowed to bring high-cal desserts to celebrate their kid's birthday with classmates, according to an article posted on Instead, parents are being urged to swap out bad-for-you sweets for inedible treats such as stickers and pencils (womp, womp).

The policy change, which has also been adopted in some schools located in Michigan, Colorado, Kentucky, and Minnesota, is in response to the seemingly out-of-control childhood obesity epidemic that has more than doubled in the last 30 years, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you grew up sharing your mom's homemade baked goods or store-bought favorites like Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins with your peers on your birthday like I did, you may think this new approach could ruin a happy childhood tradition. Part of me agrees that eliminating the problem rather than teaching one how to face it, like learning portion control, may only make matters worse. Plus, depriving kids of sugary foods might lead to an unhealthy relationship with these items in the future. My parents, for example, didn't keep sweets at home, so the minute I started getting an allowance, I began buying boxes of Little Debbie snacks and housing them when no one was watching. My saving grace from gaining weight was being involved in countless after-school activities.

Unfortunately, portion control is something many adults still struggle with. 

“We've been spending billions of dollars over the last 20 years trying to figure out how to encourage adults to do portion control. But when there's food right in front of you, all of that goes right out the window,” says Christopher Ochner, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics, adolescent medicine, and psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in NYC. 

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Why do we have so little restraint? “Starvation has been our biggest threat to survival for six million years. The fact that too much food is killing people more than starvation is only an advent of the last 50 years,” Ochner says. It's okay if it feels unnatural to stop eating before you're full—and even when you are full—but you have to learn to fight your hand-to-mouth instincts if you and your offspring wanna make it in this new world.

Teaching impulse control is difficult, so some experts say the next step is to change the food environment by limiting temptation. And minimizing your kids' exposure to cupcakes that can pack up to 700 calories will help, they urge. “Losing cupcakes may seem like a big deal because we're making the change now, but I don't think people will really miss them,” says Ochner. He likens it to the initial outrage of removing vending machines from schools: People were furious, but they survived.  

Would you support a cupcake ban in your school district? Tell us what you think below or tweet a comment at @Shape_Magazine


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