With December fast approaching and the end of another school year almost here, its only a matter of time before Christmas cards start to come home. And more often than not along with these cards comes a candy cane... or something similar.
WHY? WHY OH WHY, must people insist on jamming this crap into an envelope!
I don't mean to be the Christmas Grinch, but by the end of the silly season, a lot of candy has been dished out (and we have only just survived Halloween, which has quietly crept into Australia over the last few years, as though it was a tradition we've always had - but that's another rant).
Do we really need to add candy canes to Christmas card? Isn't the card enough? - a simple gesture of good will and kindness.
With more than 2/3 of adults putting on more than half a kilo over the 6 week Christmas period, accounting for 51% of our annual weight gain, do we really need to be encouraging our children to gorge too? (1, 2) (half a kilo may not seem like a lot of weight, but gaining only 1kg per year over 10 years makes a 10kg weight gain - that's a problem)
Last Christmas I brought this issue to the attention of my daughters school and called for a ban on candy canes, but unfortunately it fell on deaf ears. Here is what my daughter's principal had to say:
"We also get frustrated with candy canes and other treats that seem to spill into school as we head into Christmas. We do ask students (often) not to bring candy canes etc to school. We have often discussed this and feel we don’t want to “ban” them as such because we don’t want to “kill” the spirit of Christmas giving and sharing. We also think that it is very difficult to “police”."
I do feel this is a reasonable response, however I also feel their is a very strong opposing argument. So here it is:
Firstly, this school does generally promote healthy eating behaviours, including a morning fruit and water break, a 'traffic light' system in the canteen with a reasonable variety of 'healthy' options, nutrition embedded within the curriculum, and a very strict nut and 'no sharing food' policy. Allowing candy canes to be shared seems to be specifically contradictory to the 'sharing' policy, whilst also undermining the other healthy behaviours they have been working to instil.
There is a nutrition school of thought that a parent is responsible for what and when a child eats, while the child is responsible for how much. Allowing candy canes to be given out disables the parents responsibility to decide what their child is eating (I am pretty tired of people giving my kids crap!)
As I previously highlighted, the Christmas period is known to be problematic for weight gain. (1, 2) It is also known that the weight gained during the holidays tends to remain after the Christmas period. (1, 2) We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic, with 61% of Australian adults and 25% of Australian children (5 -17 years), already overweight or obese. (3, 4) The rate among children has increased by 3% since 1995, with causes recognised to include poor food behaviours, overweight or obese parents, as well as a lack of physical activity and excessive sedentary (screen) time. (3, 5)
Do we really need to encourage the consumption of more empty calories? - The majority of lunchboxes are already full of them.
Or further immerse our children in an obesogenic environment - society has this covered pretty well, do we really need our schools to be joining in too?
Further to this, 48.7% of children aged 5-6 years have a history of dental decay in baby teeth and nearly 45.1% of children aged 12 years have a history of decay in permanent teeth, which can partially be attributes to sugary snacks and drinks.(6, 7) Foods which stick to the teeth, like candy canes, further increase the risk of decay as the tooth remains exposed to the decay causing acids for prolonged periods. (7) (Dentists are darn expensive too - I'd prefer to avoid them if possible)
So I ask again, do we really need to add candy canes to Christmas cards? Surely a card is still a gesture of goodwill, sharing and giving?
Of course there are always alternative little gifts that can be added to Christmas cards that aren't to contribute to dental decay or the consumption of empty calories, like stickers, bubbles, glow sticks, erasers, pencils, homemade Christmas decorations or any one of the thousands of different Christmas totes that have been filling the supermarket shelves since October.
But this is where it is up to you!
If we can't depend on schools to ban candy canes and other Christmas junk, I am turning to you as parents to join with me and boycott candy canes this Christmas - make this pledge, sign your name and don't send candy canes to school, do it for your children, their health and their teeth.
Nikki is a PhD qualified Nutritionist and an expert in children's eating.