Friday, October 6, 2006

What to do with snack food?

For a while now, we've been hearing about schools starting to crack down on junk food and snacks available to kids. In the (worthwhile) cause of combatting childhood obesity, many schools and their suppliers have removed soft drinks and started stocking water, unsweetened fruit juice, milk, and other healthier drinks. Now, according to a new agreement reached in New York, snacks will be banned according to several formulae based on fat and sugar content. Gone are the days of getting a Coke and a Snickers out of the vending machine for lunch.

Now, I'm not advocating feeding our children junk food and sugar, particularly while they are simultaneously being expected to sit at a desk and learn the answers to the next standardized test, but how much good does it do to ban these foods from being sold in school vending machines and cafeterias? Until high school, I took my lunch every day, and never had a desire to waste my money in a vending machine when I could bring a Coke or candy bar from home. Now, maybe I was just a tight-wad (and most likely I still am) but just because you are not selling soft drinks does not mean they won't be consumed in the halls and cafeterias.

In fact, one thing I see this doing is opening up a whole new market for enterprising students. You're not saying soft drinks and candy are prohibited, just that you can't buy it from the school. Well, where can you buy it? When I was in high school, I used to go to the local wholesale club and buy a box of 100 Blow-Pops for about $4.95. Then I would fill my jacket pockets with them and sell them for 25 cents apiece between classes. (The green apple ones were fifty cents because they were scarce and in demand.) Blow-Pops were not banned, you just couldn't get them at school, so I provided them and in the process made $20 per box. Now the monopoly provider of candy and cookies is voluntarily bowing out, leaving a huge opportunity. It might be a bit tricky to do this with soft drinks, but that just drives the price up.

I'm sure this action will have some effect on the consumption of junk food, but (call me crazy) I just don't see it stemming the tide. Maybe if schools brought back recess and a gym requirement... Oh sorry, that's too drastic! We love our kids after all, but we can't take time away from the classes that are preparing them to do well on the standardized tests. No child left behind, and all...

And yes, you can call me a cynic...