A school in China has recently sparked a debate online for choosing the meals to give to students based on their weight.
The kindergarten in Jiading, Shanghai reportedly offers vegetables to overweight children while providing milk and meat to underweight kids for the students’ afternoon snacks, China Daily reported.
From Nov. 14 to 18, the kindergarten’s afternoon menu consists of boiled cabbage, boiled Bok choy, boiled baby cabbage, boiled lettuce and steamed pumpkin for overweight kids, and eggs, milk, meat balls and biscuits for the underweight ones.
The meal selection of the school of more than 130 students, which is prepared out of health considerations, has earned criticism over its rationality.
According to Wang Yaqin, the kindergarten’s head, the school’s menus are from recommendations of dietitians and pass a careful daily nutrition analysis to ensure that they are indeed healthy for the students.
The kindergarten even prepares special meals for sick children, including non-allergenic foods such eggs, mushrooms and seafood.
She added that the classification of the overweight and underweight children are based on national standards, and while the afternoon meals are differentiated, she noted that the students eat the same for breakfast and lunch.
Before implementing the menu adjustments, Wang said that teachers conducted surveys among parents about such an idea and were able to get their permission.
“Extra meals are different from formal meals. It is good for my overweight child to eat more vegetables,” one parent surnamed Li was quoted as saying.
“It is impossible that our children are in malnutrition in the city life. We only worry about excess nutrition. Obesity brings too many problems,” another parent, surnamed Chen, said in agreement of the school’s policy.
Parents who expressed their concerns worry that changes in the diet may affect the children’s physical development.
“If he is overweight, he can exercise more. But malnutrition will affect his development,” said one concerned mother.
Other parents worry that the differential treatment may affect their kids psychologically.
One parent noted how sensitive kindergarten children can be and may affect them significantly if treated differently. Children observe the negative reactions in everyday life and giving them different meals may remind them of their differences.
For the health experts, the kindergarten is doing a great job, saying it that choosing food according to the weights of different children is necessary to practice healthy eating early in life.
Public health nutritionist Gu Chuanling said that obesity in children is caused by not choosing food wisely. Most of the time parents would try to satisfy their children’s cravings of sweets and junk food which eventually would lead to obesity.
Psychologist Liu Yeping of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, said both teachers and parents should help children understand food properly and refrain from attaching labels such as “overweight” or “underweight” to children as they cause discrimination and are psychologically harmful.