Test Your School Junk Food IQ With This Quick Quiz!

hi-c-blast.jpgSublime in its simplicity, compelling in its story, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has succinctly summed up the USDA nutrition guidelines as gobbledygook by dramatizing the absurdity of what is considered ‘junk food’ in schools.

5 questions. No big time zap. It’s a fabulous digital media use, worthy of a few “forward to a friend” challenges, among kids AND adults! C’mon, try it…you’ll LOVE this quiz.

Here’s a teaser: “Which drink is considered a junk food according to national school foods standards? Hi-C Blast? Poland Springs Seltzer Water? Or Neither?” The answer is the water, explaining, “The Hi-C Blast is fortified with vitamins so it’s allowed–even though it is just sugar water. We consider seltzer water a healthy choice but USDA considers it a junk food because it doesn’t contain any vitamins or minerals (of course, neither does water).”

That’s a doozy of a snapshot to open a conversation asking, “What’s considered a junk food in school, according to the USDA which regulates school foods?”

We use quizzes and factoids like this in our Dare to Compare, Gross Out Game for Good Nutrition as peer to peer guessing games to try to stump the panel, think critically, and deconstruct media messages on junk food for healthier choices. It jolts kids’ attention with those ‘whoa!’ and ‘aha!’ moments that widen children’s eyes and knowledge…

I also use CSPI’s SmartMouth and their Improve School Foods site to show kids how to take action (video contest here, 11/1 deadline!) but let’s face it, most kids love junk food because it tastes good…so that’s a tough sell!

Instead, you might opt for label literacy with a ‘think about your drink’ mindset so kids know what they’re consuming without ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’ of junk food marketing. (here’s a concise sugar/calorie beverage breakdown from Seattle public health to give you a feel for random sweetened drinks with kid appeal; note the small portions and multiply!)

The quiz is a perfect example of how to use media to ditch the preach-n-teach, go interactive and learn about what goes into kids’ minds and bodies through pre-conceived assumptions and messaging reinforcement.

Most people assume junk food’s been banned from schools due to the press flurry last year, and the study from the Institute of Medicine’s nutrition standards for food in schools released this spring. Not so.

Many parents think, “They did away with all those unhealthy items and vending machines right?” Soda and snacks are gone now…aren’t they?

Weren’t they “banned and canned” through policy?

Aren’t they completely OUT of schools now? Chyeah…right. No way, baby. You wish.

It’s not about banishment or constriction as much as it is common sense and woefully outdated nutrition standards. Unhealthy foods may be ‘in compliance’ of USDA guidelines sold through district school lunch programs, vending machines, school stores, a la carte lines, even local partnerships with pizza and cookie vendors of choice.

The loopholes need closed and fixed, because the contradictions are astounding.

Thankfully, Senate bill 771 that Harkin submitted is receiving bipartisan support for legislation, but it chaps my hide to think that we need something on the books just to use our heads about what’s necessary and vital for children’s health.

As you can see by last week’s AP news ‘report card’ of findings, there are FEWER sodas in schools, and ‘better’ snack offerings in some regions, but it’s all been ‘voluntary’ and brokered by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. (Clinton’s foundation w/the American Heart Assn)

Don’t get me wrong…the progress IS real.

Non-diet school soda sales are slipping, (32% last year as opposed to 47% intake in 2004) and most elementary schools are already soda free, so they’re ‘getting there’…but there’s a lot of work to do.

In fairness, beverage companies promised to phase in the changes by the 2009-10 school year, and an economist they hired to evaluate vending machine stock reported that “the biggest declines were in sugary fruit drinks, 56.2% and full-calorie soft drinks, 45.1%.” Meanwhile, sales of bottled water surged 22.8%. Woohoo!

But now let’s look at the marketing contracts and school vendor tactics…

As beverage companies are publically praised and lauded for their responsiveness and accomplishments, it seems to me there’s a bait and switch with sports drinks and other offerings going on here.

First of all, compliance is voluntary, so there’s no incentive for schools to even follow through…And frankly? Many haven’t.

On the volleyball circuit each week I make it a point when visiting schools to browse the premises for ‘vending offerings’ and not one has complied YET with the supposed ‘voluntary guidelines’ set forth by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. (FAQ/rationale on the guidelines here)

Oh, sure, they’ve swapped sports drinks for soda now and then in an illusion of healthier fare…But look closely at the guidelines…

As you can see in this promising AP headline news LAST year, titled Major Soda Brands Agree to Halt Sales to Public Schools, only drinks considered “nutritious, like juice, sports drinks and low-fat milk” are supposed to be sold in “8-oz servings for elementary school, 10-oz. for middle school, and 12oz. for high schools.”

First, there’s the dietary clash of what’s considered ‘nutritious’…Then there’s considerable portion distortion

Have you EVER seen kids suck down a Gatorade or Powerade in an 8oz. size? Ever? EVER?

Sports drinks are usually avail in those mega-giant 32oz. sizes that kids chug down with even MORE excess sugar and salt and calories than SODA due to the size of those chug-a-lugs!

So where’s the net gain there, people?

We ‘ban’ soda in some states, then swap it out with high sugar/sodium ‘sports drinks’ and “vitamin water” to market it to kids with an energy/nutrient claim, confuse the issue, and make everyone think it’s all ‘healthy and okay’ so they drink even more of it and pack on the pounds?

Silly. Silly. Silly.

Again, to be clear, once upon a time beverage companies agreed to voluntary guidelines to sell only water, unsweetened juice and low-fat/nonfat milk to elementary and middle schools. Diet sodas and sports drinks were to remain in high schools.

Wasn’t that trial balloon floated just last year? In middle schools I’m seeing tons of over-sized sports drinks and juices, some diet soda, and random water offerings, ‘vitamin,’ flavored, bubbly and otherwise.

Is it working where you live? Have you looked around your school lately at what’s being sold? Weigh in!



  1. Here’s a front pager from the S.F. Chronicle that seems to have been thinking along the same lines in terms of the silliness of junk food swapping…hmn. I think I need to tell them we exist, n’est ce pas???

    Here it is.


    I’ll write a follow up analysis of our findings (in Ca.-state based schools) and compare/contrast with theirs…At first glance, it looks pretty consistent…see what I mean by going in circles and the bait-n-switch “junk for lesser junk?!” modality? sigh.

  2. Hey amy! I liked the question! It was fun and its not too hard

  3. Why is Steaz sparkling green tea approved for schools when it is a carbonated beverage loaded with 35 grams of cane sugar?

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