Let Them Eat Cake: States Battle Nutrition Standards to Defend the All-American Bake Sale

Georgia and 11 others fight to exempt fund-raising snacks from federal guidelines.
(Photo: Lisa Pines/Getty Images)
Jul 27, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

Out with the cupcakes, in with the fruit cups.

At least that’s what the USDA envisioned when it came up with the “Smart Snacks in School” standards as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The guidelines—which set rules for treats sold on K–12 campuses outside the cafeteria during school hours, or “competitive foods”—went into effect July 1. Some states are pushing back; they will not have the “bake” (and granulated sugar) taken out of bake sale.

“These new federal guidelines limiting food and beverage fundraisers are an absolute overreach of the federal government,” Georgia State Board of Education Chair Helen Rice and State School Superintendent John Barge said in a recent press release. “Tough economic times have translated into fewer resources, and these fundraisers allow our schools to raise a considerable amount of money for very worthwhile education programs.”

But what about childhood obesity, one might ask?

The statement said: “While we are concerned about the obesity epidemic, limiting food and beverage fundraisers at schools and school-related events is not the solution to solving it.”

Neither Rice nor Barge offered a plan to solve the health crisis among schoolchildren, but the release did announce a proposed rule that would let each Georgia school hold 30 food-related fund-raisers per year that could ignore the federal nutrition standards. The edict would also redefine “competitive foods,” the hours that define a school day, and what constitutes “school”—all of which could undermine the “Smart Snacks” rules completely. (The federal standards apply only to bake sales during school hours and on campus.)

The National Association of State Boards of Education database lists 11 other states that have proposed or have set their own fund-raising exemptions—including Idaho (10 fund-raisers each year), Missouri (five per school building each year), and Wyoming (five per year, each lasting up to two weeks).

All of which has frustrated some health and nutrition advocates.

“Pushing back on so-called federal government overreach by allowing a huge number of unhealthy school fundraisers is not only bad politics, it’s irresponsible, puts children’s health at risk, and undermines parents’ efforts to feed their children healthfully,” Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told Politico. “There are plenty of healthy fundraising options that are practical—and as or more profitable than selling junk food.”

Who else is not on sugar’s side? Most of the states, which aren’t fighting federal nutrition guidelines in the name of sweet old American bake sales.

For instance, in Mississippi, which last year trumped West Virginia as the most obese state in the nation, schools allow a maximum of 15 grams of sugar per snack—whether or not it’s sold from the cafeteria. How about Mom’s homemade brownies? With about 21 grams of sugar, they’re not on the Magnolia State’s allowable list.

No sucrose-deprived riots have yet broken out at Mississippi’s K–12 schools. Still, fruit cups, peanuts, and low-fat tortilla chips aren’t the stuff of homeroom daydreams. Some might even argue that students would miss out on a tradition as American, as, well, apple pie.

But it might be all right. The kids will thank the grown-ups later.