Anusuya Chatterjee
Managing Economist, Research
Aging and Demographics and Education & Workforce Development and Health and Human Capital and Indexes & Rankings and Public Policy and Regional Economics
Dr. Anusuya Chatterjee is a managing economist at the Milken Institute. Her expertise is in measuring broad economic impacts of health- and longevity-related issues. She has led research efforts on some of the Institute's highest-profile publications, involving such topics as the economics of chronic disease prevention and management, obesity, economics...
read bio
School bake sales: Raising money or blood sugar?
By: Anusuya Chatterjee
July 13, 2011
Major cuts in school funding have made it absolutely essential for PTAs to make up shortfalls through fund-raisers, and bake sales are an integral part of this effort at most schools. With public funding growing tighter than ever, moms and dads parents regularly find themselves hawking chocolates, cupcakes and cookies after school hours. As parents and teachers count the proceeds from bake sales, they might take a minute to count the calories in these sugary foods and think about what they're doing to the health of our children.

Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled since 1980. At present, at least 17 percent (12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years is obese. Childhood obesity increases the risks of chronic disease, including diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases, major contributors to low quality of life and bulging health-care costs. To pay for school programs in the short term, we are creating an obese, unhealthy generation and further driving up our health-care costs. Clearly, as a society, we need to re-evaluate our priorities.

Last year, President Obama's much-hyped Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act stopped short of limiting bake sales in schools for fundraising purposes. New York City schools banned homemade baked goods (sparking cries that it was becoming a nanny state), but they still allow commercially packaged goods that aren't really any better. Policymakers may have heard us, they are not doing enough.

In any event, dealing with childhood obesity may be a national priority, but the key to success lies at the local -- and maybe the neighborhood -- level. Should we wait and watch till someone else puts a hold on this? I strongly suggest that parents and teachers take responsibility and come up with a constructive plan. I don't think banning snack sales is logical or realistic. But we can sell healthier substitutes: cut fruits, popsicles, yogurt, crackers with cheese, flatbread with hummus, veggie wraps and more.

Further, why must we sell food items all the time? We're selling children short if we don't believe they would part with their allowance money for small fun toys, stickers, yo-yos, balls, balloons and books. Parents and teachers should collaborate to chalk out a little more innovation and do what it takes to make a real difference in the lives of our children.