Schools across the nation are wondering if there’s any truth to Cheetos’ “Dangerously Cheesy” slogan. After noting a slew of health-related problems and a perceived lack of nutritional value related to Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, school districts are banning the snack. And Frito Lay, Cheetos’ manufacturer, is taking the heat.
After a school district in Rockford, Ill. — about 100 miles northwest of Chicago — banned Flamin’ Hot Cheetos because of their fat and sodium content, schools in California and New Mexico are attempting to follow suit, ABC News reported.
“If children were to bring in snacks that are high in fat, high in calories, that’s their choice,” Robert Willis, interim Superintendent of the Rockford School District, told ABC. “We’re not going to be providing those kinds of foods.”
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ABC reported that some experts have labeled the offending Cheetos, which contain artificial coloring and flavoring, 17 grams of fat and 10% of the recommended daily intake of sodium per ounce, as “hyperpalatable” — or extremely addictive.
“Our brain is really hardwired to find things like fat and salt really rewarding, and now we have foods that have them in such high levels that it can trigger an addictive process,” Ashley Gearhardt, a clinical psychologist at the University of Michigan, told ABC. She added that kids are particularly susceptible because they are still developing, and some researchers are finding craving levels in Cheetos-lovers similar to those of people addicted to drugs.
Given these findings, it comes as little surprise that schools are pushing back against the snacks. Principals in southern California’s Pasadena Unified School District, which has banished junk food and candy from its elementary schools, limiting them strictly for older students, have the option of eliminating foods — including Flamin’ Hot Cheetos — from their schools. KTLA reported that some kids can’t even bring the spicy snack to school. The principal of Andrew Jackson Elementary School warned students that if they’re caught red-handed, their Flamin’ Hot Cheetos would be thrown away.
The concerns extend beyond teacher’s lounge chatter, though. CBS News reported that children and parents arrive at emergency rooms panicked about bloody stool, only to find that the red dye in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is to blame for the shocking color change. While this isn’t a sign of a major medical problem – other red foods, such as red velvet cake and beets, can also cause crimson-colored stool — it should be a sign for kids to quit their Cheetos overload, Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann, pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, told CBS St. Louis.
“So even though we might eat some foods with red food dye in them regularly, our stool doesn’t usually become discolored unless you eat huge amounts of it,” Dr. Berchelmann said. “Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is one food that people will eat enormous amounts of and will see a change in their stool.”
But other doctors have indeed seen minor health issues related to excessive munching on the spicy snacks. “A number of patients who have consumed these Cheetos in excess have complained of pain in their upper abdomen, rising up into their chest, likely due to due to the red peppers and spice contained in the snack,” Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital, told CBS.
Frito Lay defended its popular product, releasing a statement that claims the company is “committed to responsible and ethical practices, which includes not marketing [their] products to children ages 12 and under.” The manufacturer also said in the release that it has no influence on “which snacks are available on school campuses and do not sell snack products directly to schools.”
Despite the firestorm, it’s unlikely that Cheetos bags will lose their coveted spots in vending machines and convenience stores across the nation. Numerous Facebook fan pages devoted to the snack have more than 60,500 combined Likes. It has also inspired a song by a group of young rappers called “Hot Cheetos & Takis,” which has garnered more than 3.4 million YouTube views in just two months. Administrators can ban Flamin’ Hot Cheetos from schools, but it won’t be so easy scrubbing the red Cheetos dust from the extracurricular culture.