21 Aug 2014
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The Trap of Fast Food Fundraisers

Tonight Brookside Elementary School will host a “McTeacher” night. Is hosting fundraisers at fast food restaurants a healthy way to raise money for schools or our local businesses?

The Trap of Fast Food Fundraisers

Editor's Note: the McDonald's fundraising event for Brookside was a PTO-approved event, with the proceeds going to a school program that encourages positive behavior in students. The column has been clarified to reflect that.

McTeacher night is a school fundraiser with one focus: get as many families as possible to in a three-hour period while the teachers serve the children and school programs take home 10 to 15 percent of the profits. Wednesday night, focusing on , is not the first McTeacher night in Milford. There are many throughout the year for all the elementary schools in town.

Evidently, McTeacher nights are quite the money-maker. How would I know this? As a concerned health advocate for my community, I have been working for years to remove this fundraiser from the agendas. I have met individually with Brookside Principal Kathleen Kay and Milford Superintendent Robert Tremblay. I was told from both of them that it is not a school event (because it is after-hours), the teachers are volunteering their time and it is a huge financial success. Therefore, they leave it to the PTO’s discretion.

According to their website McDonald's serves 27 million Americans every day, one million more every year since 2003. Globally, McDonald's serves more than 47 million customers each day! McDonald’s serves 671 customers per second, every second of the day. And to think this is only the McDonald’s chain? Imagine factoring in all the other fast food chains.

America’s obesity rates are rising to epidemic proportions. The latest statistic from the U.S. Centers from Disease Control and Prevention states nearly 17 percent of U.S. kids and adolescents are obese. That's 12.5 million young Americans — nearly triple the obesity rate since 1980. Teenage Type II Diabesity and Cholesterol are skyrocketing and fast food is a known link.

A 2009 a Yale University study found that “40 percent of preschool-aged children ask to go to McDonald's on a weekly basis, 15 percent ask on a daily basis and 84 percent of parents say they've taken their children to eat fast food at least once in the past week."

Children under the age of 10 should consume less than 1,200 calories (less than 25 percent of them being fat calories), less than 4 grams of salt and less than 30 grams of sugar per day, according to the American Diabetic Association.

After reviewing the McDonald’s 23 page nutrition information pdf; I figured out a Happy Meal with a hamburger, fries, lowfat milk and sundae for dessert would add up to 880 calories (430 of them fat calories), 835 grams of sodium and 34 grams of sugar. If the parents or older siblings want bigger portions, the numbers were typically doubled. 

Parents may tell their children “NO” when asked to go to McDonald’s, but their schools are hosting fundraisers where the teacher will serve them a Happy Meal with a Smile? Regardless of whether someone “never” goes to McDonald’s and simply wants to support the school or this is their weekly convenience trip around sports, band practice and work, McTeacher night presents a huge conflicting message. 

The school system's Wellness Policy committee met last month to discuss the many ways to improve the school health focus. Milford’s Healthy Kids week was just last week. Milford’s Healthy Future’s Initiative has been meeting monthly to increase health awareness and programs throughout our community to include the today… but pulled in to the school parking lot yesterday for the meeting to see a "McTeacher Night" announcement on the school marquee.

The Health Happenings column is written to bring health to the forefront of Milford Patch readers’ minds. As a health coach and nurse practitioner, I've learned that one of the biggest obstacles people have in reaching health and weight goals is redirecting their meal habits. Many vent that they are “too busy” and “too tired” to make food. They are not sitting at a table with food cooked in their house but consuming fast food and packaged meals filled with additives. It breaks my heart to see school fundraisers add to this unhealthy eating trap.

As I was wrapping up writing this column, I received an email reminder from Middle School PTO about Friday's . UGH.

Assisting the community to break habits is tough. Eating fast food and hosting fundraisers with a focus on eating unhealthy foods are habits. Why not ask parents to send in $5 per child? At approximately 300 students per class we could raise $18,000.

Why not do a fundraiser that supports grassroots efforts or benefits the environment (like the one I helped spearhead with Stacy PTO three years ago selling steel water bottles and flower bulbs)? Finally, the fast food fundraisers do not support local businesses. There are family-owned fooderies in Milford who may be interested in hosting a fundraiser for the PTO. Is it possible? I don’t know. Would it be healthier? Maybe not. But it would keep the other 85 to 90 percent of the profits in Milford.

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