High School Bake Sales Run Afoul Of Obesity Fight

As school budgets continue to get squeezed, administrators, parents and students are having to do more fundraising. And now the fight to raise funds has come head-to-head with the fight against childhood obesity. Stephanie Armour, of Bloomberg Businessweek, talks to David Greene about the move to ban bake sales.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There's nothing more American than an apple pie, right? Well, many of us would say the same thing about a good old-fashioned bake sale, selling homemade pies, cookies, muffins, Rice Krispie Treats to raise cash for a school organization. Well, bake sales are now under a lot of scrutiny in the battle against childhood obesity.

In the new issue of Bloomberg Businessweek magazine, food safety reporter Stephanie Armour explains the move towards banning bake sales.

STEPHANIE ARMOUR: States and schools have gotten very concerned because children and adolescents have a rapidly increasing obesity rate. It has tripled since 1980. So the thought is that if they can get healthier food or no bake sales, that perhaps they can lower that rate.

GREENE: Are parents in support of this? I mean they clearly want their kids to be healthy but, you know, I'm sure a lot of parents remember bake sales being something, you know, they cherished when they were in school.

ARMOUR: It seems like parents are really divided. There are some that say look, they're having these sales, my kids are coming home jacked up on sugar. And there's quite a strong contingent that say look, the schools really need this money for things like activities and clubs, and that putting a ban or restrictions just really goes way too far.

GREENE: And Stephanie, I certainly took part in a lot of bake sales in my school days. But I always wonder, I mean, how much money can a bake sale raise? What kind of cash are we talking about?

ARMOUR: It varies. Some can raise quite a bit. One mother in New York City told me that she had raised more than $50,000.

GREENE: Wow.

ARMOUR: Fundraising efforts in one school in Maryland had raised $25,000. So it can actually be substantial and it's really often an important component of activities, clubs. In Massachusetts, one school district raised $25,000 through fundraising sales, and that money went for things like scholarships, uniforms, as well as a brand new score board for the swimming pool - an eight-lane scoreboard.

GREENE: You know, it's interesting, you bring that up because I suppose that a lot of these bake sales are actually funding athletics. Which raises the issue that sure, you're trying to make kids healthier by not allowing bake sales, but here they are supporting athletics and making kids healthier.

ARMOUR: That's exactly what a number of students and the booster club folks said to me - that look, we're actually raising money for things that keep kids active and keep them healthy and that is an important focus that should not be lost.

GREENE: Do some people feel this has gone overboard? I mean I know a lot of people who deal with obesity say that it's all in moderation. And it seems to strike me here that there might be a time when you would say one home baked, you know, cupcake, or one home baked cookie has a lot more nutritional value than, you know, a bag of Doritos or, you know, candy bars everyday from the vending machine.

ARMOUR: Right. In Texas, they passed an amendment, the Safe Cupcake Amendment, which basically upholds the right of parents to bring in a cupcake or a donut for their kids on their birthday, 'cause some of these bans also restrict treats that are on class birthdays.

GREENE: This has actually reached a state legislature?

ARMOUR: Yes.

GREENE: I mean...

ARMOUR: Yeah.

GREENE: Like a Bill of Rights, saying parents have a right to celebrate their child's birthday with a cupcake?

ARMOUR: With a cupcake in the school. And some of the parents are saying they hope to bring that fight to what is now going on with bake sales. Although, quite frankly, the USDA is going to come out this year with rules on what can be sold in school during the day - what kind of food - and that is expected to cover bake sales, in terms of making them more nutritious. Although there will be some exceptions for infrequent bake sales.

GREENE: So the U.S. Department of Agriculture might find a way to bring this debate to some compromised ending.

ARMOUR: Right. Right. They're saying they're not banning bake sales, but I think a lot of people are concerned as to what kind of rules will be rolled out nationwide.

GREENE: Stephanie Armour, thanks so much for joining us.

ARMOUR: Sure. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: That's Stephanie Armour, she is Bloomberg's food safety reporter.

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