At school, twilight of the Twinkie?

Wearing a birthday sash may not be quite as sweet as savoring one of mom's sprinkle-covered cupcakes. But it's the special attention that really counts. And a visit to the principal's office can even be cast as a comparable perk.

At least, that's the thinking of the Chandler School Council in Duxbury, Mass.

As part of an effort to address parents' concerns about nutrition, the school has banned all food sent from home for students' birthday celebrations.

It's a broad approach meant to address a national woe. Child obesity rates are double what they were 30 years ago.

On the national level, Sen. Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa has been pushing for a bill that would regulate the availability of junk food in public schools. At least one group, the Center for Individual Freedom, has objected to what it views as mandated behavior - and a school overstepping its responsibilities. Several Massachusetts schools beyond Duxbury have implemeted bans on food from home, citing concerns about allergies. A ban on sugary snacks in Texas elementary schools was recently withdrawn after a public outcry. It's too soon to tell whether the debate will swell to ketchup-as-a-vegetable proportions.

At Chandler, the effort has already included an overhaul of the school lunch menu, which eliminated brownies, cookies, and chips and called for fresh fruit on every child's tray. Articles about nutrition are periodically sent home with students.

The trigger for the new focus: a poll of parents in May that named nutrition as a top schoolday concern. In response to what it saw as a plea for more attention to nutrition, the school council extended its healthy-eating crusade to in-class birthday celebrations. To some, that might have "Grinch Who Stole Christmas" overtones. But the school defends the move.

"What this is really about is shifting the focus from the food to the child," says Ann Kalous, a parent and member of the School Council. Accordingly, with the help of the PTA, the council devised a "birthday package" that would make students feel special on their birthday, without extra snacks. Parents worked all summer to sew the birthday sashes, Ms. Kalous says.

"It's more of a celebration of that particular child," Kalous explains. "They get to celebrate [their birthday] all day."

The school, with students in kindergarten through second grade, reportedly bestowed its first birthday package on a young girl Friday.

The student - whose identity was guarded by the school - sat on a special seat cover, donned a birthday sash, and visited the principal's office to receive a special birthday pencil and a dragon sticker, according to the principal's secretary, Kay O'Toole. (The school's mascot is a dragon.) The alternative celebration was a great success, says Ms. O'Toole.

Kalous says her own son, a student at the school, was a little disappointed when he heard about the new rule. But he eventually bought into the compromise. "It wasn't a big deal," she says.

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