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Healthy Food Zones

by Alicia Yip

I recently read an article about a “Healthy Food Zone” ordinance possibly being put in place in Austin, Texas for 2016. Fast food restaurants and other retailers of unhealthy food options would be banned from opening in areas surrounding Austin schools, parks, recreation centres, libraries, and child care centres in an effort to fight childhood obesity. Although probably very difficult to put in place, I found this to be a very interesting idea. How would this impact students and schools? Would it be beneficial? Should we be thinking about implementing a similar plan here in Canada?

The Guidelines for Food and Beverage Sales in BC Schools was implemented a year or two into my time in high school. I was able to see the change first hand and experience its impact on the school and students. Ketchup chips were replaced with apple chips and those big chewy chocolate cookies were gone from vending machines forever. It didn’t take long before students started to flock to the nearby Safeway, A&W, and gas station convenience store during their lunch hour. I was quite upset about the missing cookies, but of course now I see it differently.

Although I think the “Healthy School Zone” concept is a good idea, I don’t think that just removing the so-called culprits will solve the problem. Students have found a way around it before and they will most likely find a way around it again. A healthy school isn’t just about a healthy classroom; a healthy school is defined by the whole school environment. The Comprehensive School Health framework defines this whole school approach with four inter-related pillars; relationships and environments, teaching and learning, community partnerships, and our school policies. When actions are taken across all four pillars, there is a greater impact on the health of students, the school, and the community.

I believe that for this “Healthy School Zone” concept to work, all four pillars will need to be looked at. Simply just taking away the options will most likely have a negative impact. We all have the tendency to want what we can’t have right? Students, staff, and parents should fully understand why the change is necessary, why healthy eating is important, and what benefits are associated with it. They should also be able to take part in the discussion, share their opinions on the subject matter, and ask questions. Perhaps a school policy should be put in place with regards to healthy eating. Also, possible partnerships could be made with restaurants and retailers to sell healthier food options. Students should be given the opportunity to learn about the health benefits of healthy eating so that they can make informed food choices themselves, better educated students are healthier and healthier students learn better.  If everyone is involved in the process, a change is more readily accepted.

What do you think about this idea?

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