Sweet Nothings

As schools take up the fight against child obesity, soda machines and french fries are clear targets. But one public school in Massachusetts has identified another indulgence that could be making kids fat: birthday parties.
by | August 2004

As schools take up the fight against child obesity, soda machines and french fries are clear targets. But one public school in Massachusetts has identified another indulgence that could be making kids fat: birthday parties.

At the Chandler School in Duxbury, whose 700 students range from kindergarten through second grade, birthdays are usually celebrated with cupcakes. Beginning in September, however, sweets are out. Instead, birthday boys or girls will have a special seat cover draped over their classroom chairs and get to wear a birthday sash all day. They'll also get a birthday pencil and sticker, and the younger students can wear a birthday crown if they want to.

The change is part of a two-year effort to improve nutrition at the school. According to a letter Principal Deborah Zetterberg sent home to parents, the idea behind the birthday policy is to focus the celebration on the child, rather than on the food. The "Birthday Star" package, she wrote, is "designed to make your child feel like a star all day long."

Critics of the policy say let them eat cupcakes. "A sweet is called a treat because it's something we don't eat morning, noon and night," one local newspaper editorialized. School officials counter that sometimes there are several birthdays in a single week, reinforcing bad eating habits. "The growing number of students with dietary needs and sugar-intake issues," Zetterberg said in her letter, "poses an increasing health and safety risk for our children."