A doctor and professor who specializes in weight management has criticized the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board for offering a pizza party as a fundraising prize.
On his blog, Weighty Matters, Ottawa-based physician Yoni Freedhoff called out the school board for promoting its Food Drive for Student Nutrition with a pizza party for the class that brought in the most donations.
"While I feel for the schools, raising money by selling products that children should be eating less of, not more, and using junk food to reward good behaviour is contrary to the school system's primary job of building healthy children," Freedhoff wrote in the Dec. 5 post.
'We have gotten to the point in society where we have so normalized the ongoing, regular provision of junk food to children that when people question it, it offends them.'—Yoni Freedhoff, physician
On Friday, Freedhoff told CBC Hamilton the problem isn’t in a single pizza party, but the pervasiveness of junk foods throughout schools.
"If this was the only thing that happened in the entire year, you’re absolutely right it’d be inconsequential," the father of three explained.
"But it’s not one pizza. I don’t think a day goes by that someone doesn’t offer my children food other than food provided by my wife or I."
From cupcakes for classroom birthday celebrations, to ice cream days for special events, and hot chocolate around the holidays, Freedhoff said there is no shortage of examples where schools allow junk food in the classroom.
"We have gotten to the point in society where we have so normalized the ongoing, regular provision of junk food to children that when people question it, it offends them," Freedhoff said, admitting many readers would likely balk at his criticism of the pizza party prize.
"I don’t think schools should be a place where parents have to fight against junk food."
He noted there are other, healthier options for prizes when looking to motivate students. He suggested active rewards like giving students an extra recess or going ice skating.
"To be quite honest, I would agree," HWDSB superintendent of student achievement John Laverty said. "For years we have culturally used food as a reward, and we need to think differently — and our teachers are starting to."
He said the board has already improved its nutrition strategy. That pizza party, for example, would have to meet provincial ministry standards for nutrition, including a whole wheat crust, and lower fat cheese and vegetable toppings.
Besides that fact, he said the pizza party as we know it is slowly becoming less common.
"I couldn’t categorically give you data [on the number of pizza parties], but I’ve seen food used as a reward less over the last few years. When food is used, it’s healthier options," he said.
While he admitted there’s room for improvement, he said the board is happy with the standards set by the ministry guidelines.
"The standards they’ve set out are quite stringent. You’d be hard pressed to add anything," he said.
"Are we perfect? No. But we're better than we were a few years ago."