NY Mom Goes to War Against School Junk Food

Filed under: In The News

ice pop

Will banning foods keep kids healthy? Image: Daino_16/sxc.hu

New York mom MeMe Roth has "been to obesity" and doesn't want her children to go there. The daughter of overweight parents herself, Roth has dedicated her life to fighting what she calls "secondhand obesity." As founder and president of National Action Against Obesity, she's waging war against "obesity handed down from one generation to the next, as well as from citizen to citizen."

Her web site urges supporters to "recognize obesity as abuse-abuse of our children, abuse of ourselves-and together take action." But in much the same way that PETA alienates the very people it is trying to reach with aggressive and often hostile tactics, Roth has managed to anger those she claims to be trying to save from the misery of being fat.

Case in point: Last year the 40-year-old was jailed after protesting the free ice cream sundaes at a YMCA event by tossing out the toppings.

Today, she is taking aim at the public school in New York where her two children are in the second and fourth grades. While she is generally okay with the lunch menu at P.S. 9 in Manhattan, she is vehemently opposed to the junk food served on special occasions. In the past, she has lobbied for permission slips for foods not on the official menu and has consistently made a fuss about the unhealthy snack foods she claims are offered to her children on a regular basis.

"I thought I was sending my kid to P.S. 9, not Chuck E. Cheese," she says. "Is there or is there not an obesity and diabetes epidemic in this country?"

To protect her children from the cookies and chips, she sends them to school with a Tupperware "junk food collector" in which they are instructed to deposit any and all unhealthy snacks given to them while in class. But when her daughter was given a frozen juice pop as a classroom treat recently, her teacher refused to let her put it in the plastic container. Obviously, frozen things don't keep well outside of the freezer, but it also sounds like the teacher may have been feeling some frustration about Roth's nitpicking ways. After confiscating the ice pop, she accused Roth's daughter of having eaten chips in the past and wondered whether that was not considered junk food as well.

The teacher probably should have kept her comments to herself -- the child clearly has enough to deal with without the teacher piling on. But when word of the incident got back to Roth, she responded with what many say is typical for her: Irate hostility. She fired off an angry email to the school which resulted in further embarrassment for her daughter when she was pulled from class to discuss the juice pop incident.

A meeting was called and according to principal Diane Brady, Roth "was hostile" and "threw candy onto the table and cursed." When school safety official Helene Moffatt suggested that perhaps a health and safety transfer to another school would be a good idea, Mrs. Roth and her husband Ben balked. While they do feel their kids are being put at risk by the presence of junk food, they are hesitant to file the police complaint necessary for such a transfer.

"What would that conversation even sound like?" asks Mr. Roth. 'We know you guys are dealing with stabbings and shootings, but stop everything: We have a cupcake situation' ?"

I think Mr. Roth hits the nail on the head with that statement. Not only do the police have better things to do than get involved in what kids are eating at school, the school has better things to do than worry about the Roth children being exposed to forbidden snacks.

Yes, there is an obesity epidemic in our country and yes, we owe it to our children to teach them healthy eating habits. But is banning junk food entirely really the way to go about teaching them to make healthy choices? I am of the "everything in moderation" school of thought and believe that forbidding certain foods makes them even more appealing than they otherwise would be.

What about you? Do you allow your children the occasional junk food treat or is that completely off the menu?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.