Time to end lunchbox shaming - food researcher

With one in three children overweight in New Zealand, it's fair to say we have a problem with youth obesity.

But as we try to get our kids to eat more healthily, are we causing extra harm?

Parents are now faced with checklists of items deemed acceptable and some frowned upon, which can be humiliating for kids on the poverty line already struggling to conform to healthy food ideals.

Even some more well-off parents say lunchbox shaming needs to stop, with one telling The Project his daughter was told off for bringing a chocolate muffin to school.

Food researcher Dr Rebekah Graham researched the way poor New Zealand families deal with a food shortage, and says the shame of not being able to afford healthy food means people are less likely to talk about it.

"They hide it - they say 'the kids are sick' or 'it's not a great day' or they keep their kids home so that they avoid that sort of shame and judgement that they feel from other parents."

She says that while schools have good intentions behind providing lists of healthy and unhealthy foods, it can make some parents - and children - feel as though they're not good enough.

"I think we can just cut it with the shaming altogether, and embrace the idea that fed is best. Then we can look at some things we can do around the obesity crisis.

"It feels like we've gotten distracted by policing everybody's lunchboxes and saying it's a health thing, when actually they're kind of two different issues."

Host Jesse Mulligan disagreed, saying schools taking an interest in their students' food isn't an attack on their parents.

"Your school is not sending home notes to make you feel bad; they're sending home notes because they don't want your child to end up with type 2 diabetes," he says.

"The only way of cutting obesity is to cut sugar, and so whether that's the schools or the parents or the Government enforcing that, someone needs to enforce it.

"If there's a little bit of shame involved with it, I'm kind of okay with that."


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