Junkfood Science: Maybe lunchboxes can just be fun again

September 21, 2007

Maybe lunchboxes can just be fun again

Occasionally, reacting to an exaggerated scare can work in kids’ favor. Recent fears of “high” exposures to lead have meant children will be freed from another source of diet messages.

Today’s news brought another example of how government agencies have been spending $41 million a year of taxpayer money on “healthy eating” promotions that aren't evidence-based and don’t work.

The San Jose Mercury News reports:

Lunchbox warning: Health officials say toss them

UNSAFE LEVEL OF LEAD FOUND IN GIVEAWAYS — The state's public health department asked parents Thursday to toss certain Chinese-made lunchboxes potentially containing dangerous levels of lead - the same ones it distributed in a campaign to promote healthy eating.

The department distributed more than 350,000 of the canvas lunchboxes, only to find out that at least three that were tested in a batch of 56,000 contained "significant" levels of lead. "It certainly is unfortunate that an item we're using to promote healthy behavior is discovered to be in itself a health hazard," said Mark Horton, the director of the Department of Public Health. "We will be reassessing our policy on the distribution of our promotional products."… The lunchboxes were given out at health fairs and other events to mainly low-income parents and carried a logo saying "eat fruits and vegetables and be active."

In the Sacramento Bee, Horton was quoted as saying that the state’s own tests had found "only very low levels of lead" prior to distribution, but a Sacramento County health employee later ran tests and found all were positive:

[T]he state's Department of Toxic Substances Control followed up the Sacramento testing with more thorough and definitive lead analyses. One of the three green bags contained levels "significantly higher" than the federal lead limit in paint, 600 parts per million, Horton said. He did not have the exact results at hand. There are no limits for lead in most other products. No cases of lead poisoning are known to have occurred from use of the lunchboxes, the state said….

While the Horton explained that the children would have to chew on the bags and get the lead from hand-to-mouth contact, the newspaper explained that lead in the paint on the outsides of the lunchbags is unlikely to poison children. No matter. "No amount of lead should be in the hands of kids," Horton said.

Maybe kids can get fun cartoon characters on their lunchboxes now.

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