Friday, June 04, 2004

No Cupcakes For You!

Birthday celebrations at an elementary school in Duxbury, Massachusetts, can no longer include cupcakes, donuts, or other treats. According to a story in the Boston Globe, school officials say the change was prompted by a survey in which parents said good nutrition is one of their top priorities. I call it an over-reaction, not unlike the misinterpretations of other surveys.

For example, you've seen how much time is devoted to weather on local TV newscasts. That's because the stations do research asking viewers what's most important to them. People often rank weather as their number one concern. So the stations expand the weather coverage to five, sometimes ten, minutes of weather -- complete with explanations of the sub-tropical jet stream, an occluded front in Canada, and the 13-day forecast.

But that's not what viewers want! When viewers say they want to know the weather, they mean they want to know what the weather will be today, tonight, and maybe tomorrow. That takes about 60 seconds to report. All the rest of the time is wasted on showing off their cool graphics package -- the doppler storm front decoder, the swooping climatological map, and -- my favorite -- the lightning strikes indicator (because it's important to sit in front of your TV and see where lightning is occurring?).

News directors would tell you this is all in the name of: 1) science; and 2) serving the viewers' needs. No, in reality, it's in the name of: 1) looking cooler than the competition so people won't tune away; and 2) misinterpreting the viewers' needs. When we say we want to know what the weather will be, we mean will it be sunny, or will it rain? Will it be warm, or should I wear a jacket? Is it going to snow, and how much?

Similarly, the school has misinterpreted the parents' responses to the survey. Of course, Mom and Dad care about their children's nutrition (if they didn't, would they admit it?). But that doesn't mean they want to have cupcakes removed from birthday celebrations and replaced with celery sticks and boxes of raisins -- especially those little boxes with 32 raisins that always come out in one inseparable clump!

The school's action is part of the recent hysteria over childhood obesity, but their emphasis is misplaced. That battle could be fought more effectively by giving the kids more opportunities to run around and burn off some calories. Too many schools have crammed their days so full that they have cut down on recess and gym class, ignoring the physical education side of the healthy child equation.

To paraphrase Marie Antoinette, I say, "Let'em eat cupcakes!" How sad it would be to hear a second-grade teacher say instead, "Happy Birthday, Ashley! Now help me pass out the fruit kabobs!"

Weather permitting, of course.