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And We Thought the Junk Food Would Just Go Away

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Now that Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has been implementing their No Junk Food policies, a whole new industry has evolved. And it's not a healthy one.

Here's how it goes (or went). Kids cannot buy their chips, sodas, candy or ice cream anymore at school, but they still want them. So the demand is there but no supply, at least on campus anyway. That demand is being capitalized upon by illegal street vendors. These street vendors are essentially waiting right outside the school gate when the bell rings and selling their wares to the "junk food deprived" students spilling out of their classrooms. The vendors also lurk around the campus during the lunch hour and swap candy for money right through the holes in those school gates.

And guess who those street vendors are? Many of them are parents themselves! They sell out of cardboard boxes, wagons and all kinds of self-modified push-carts. Some Moms are getting out there and wheeling their baby strollers full of candy right in front of the school! It's unbelievable.

And did I mention the street vendors are illegal? None of them have permits because permits aren't allowed for this sort of thing. (I believe there is an exception for trucks; those vendors seem to have permits but the pushcarts, baby strollers etc. are illegal). Not only that, vendors, (legal or not), are prohibited from selling any food within 500 feet of a school in Los Angeles. So two mandates are being broken. But it continues. Why?

There are no resources to police it. We've got a lot of crime fighting going on in this county and seizing illegal baby strollers is just not a priority.

I think another issue is one of communication. Have the students, parents and school staff been educated about the policies? Why were they passed in the first place? If this was well communicated would the problem be as great?

I don't think it's a good use of anyone's time to play the blame game. We need solutions. And what a challenge that is coming up with them. There are many other concerns that accompany this problem that I haven't even mentioned here. I could go on.

So what do we do? Something we are looking into is somehow creating competition for the street vendors; either by providing healthier after school snacks free of charge or having the Associated Student Body sell healthier snacks after the bell rings, and physically place them between the school and the vendors.

And we need to do a better job of educating both our students, parents and school staff about healthy lifestyles, and why the District passed these policies in the first place. The District's goal was not to punish by taking these items away, but to create a healthier school environment where our kids can thrive. Who knew that an even unhealthier neighborhood environment would be created?

More to come.....
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About the Author

Registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli is a nutrition advocate, consultant and educator.

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