Childhood Obesity Tied to School Lunches
It’s no secret that portion sizes have increased over the last 60 years. The CDC just released a shocking graph showing just how much that increase has been.
Another shocker: chocolate bars today are about 1,233% larger compared to the early 1900’s. It’s no wonder why the country is suffering from an overweight and obesity epidemic- one that was unheard of only 3 decades ago!
But it’s not just the fast food sizes that have increased. School lunches have also grown in size and calories, and have decreased in nutrition.
School Lunches and Obesity
Researchers have pointed to another cause for childhood obesity, the school lunch! In fact, school lunches have gotten so bad that they’re impacting today’s obesity rates. A survey taken from 1973 to 1974 compared to a survey taken in 2003 to 2004 showed that the prevalence of obese school-aged children jumped from 4% to a disturbing 18.8%!
A recent study found that students who regularly ate school lunches were 29% more likely to be obese compared to those kids who brought their lunches from home.*
There are many factors contributing to fattening and unhealthy school lunches. This article won’t go into all the factors or politics involved, but I wanted to mention a few things. One major factor is budget. It can be challenging to come up with school lunches that are both inviting and healthy, while keeping prices low. The unfortunate result is that many schools rely on high energy, yet low nutrient value foods to fill up their students.
Other factors are the special school programs some schools offer to get more revenue. In schools where the surveys were held, there were regular “Tater-Tot days”, which really is as unhealthy as it sounds. Other schools have an a la carte menu.
The Problem with a la carte
A la carte selections aren’t subject to any health guidelines which the school is required to follow, as these are not the lunches that are served “free”. Students who wish to have a la carte lunches have to pay for these, and since they’re paying customers, they’re automatically provided with more selections. Given that, the student doesn’t necessarily have to choose the healthier option.
Fortunately, there’s some light at the end of this dark tunnel. A federal law was passed late last year that is said to limit the amount of calories in every school meal. The Department of Agriculture said that they will also require programs to offer more fruits and vegetables.
Help Your Kids Have a Healthier Lunch
I don’t think we should depend on the government to provide optimal nutrition for our kids or families. There are things that we can do for ourselves, and our children, to encourage them to eat healthier. Here are a few suggestions:
- Brown Bag Solution. Make healthy lunches at home and pack them for your kids. Obvious, but effective. If you have picky eaters, have them help. Plan out meals together, do the shopping together, and prepare the lunches together.
- Feed them a healthy breakfast. Breakfast can do wonders in controlling obesity levels. Eat an omelet and a Berry Smoothie instead of cereal.
- Write to your local schools. Community action may be what it takes to get the schools in your area serve healthier meals. Join other concerned parents and students and request healthier meals.
I’d love to hear from you:
What are some healthy lunch ideas that have worked for your kids?
*(The study was conducted on about 1,000 students from Michigan, all from different schools, and looked at where these kids were getting their lunches, and what they were eating).