A Case for Healthy School Lunches
[social_buttons]The Child Nutrition Act is up for renewal and Congress has extended the deadline to early 2010. We’ve talked before about the pitiful school lunch situation in the U.S. and about how you can help advocate healthy lunches for healthy kids. What we haven’t really covered are the whys. Are the benefits of healthier lunches really worth the cost?
Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese children had at least one CVD risk factor. In addition, children who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem. Obese young people are more likely than children of normal weight to become overweight or obese adults, and therefore more at risk for associated adult health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. Healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases.
Along with getting enough exercise, a healthy diet is key in preventing obesity and the health problems that go along with it. Over 31 million children take part in the school lunch program every single day. They’re learning eating habits there that will last a lifetime.
The benefits of nutritious lunches go beyond improving physical health. There’s good evidence that better school lunches help kids concentrate and improve behavior. Back in the late 90’s, Appleton Central High School in Wisconsin traded out the junk food and soda for balanced, healthy meals with amazing results. This was a school with major disciplinary issues. They had to hire extra police to staff the school at all times, and their drop out rate was above average. When they overhauled their breakfast and lunch programs, they saw dramatic changes:
The Washington Post recently reported on a similar experiment in a UK. Organized by Jamie Oliver, the program in a Greenwich school featured lunches that were high in fresh fruits and veggies and lower in fat, salt, and sugar. It produced impressive results:
Authorised absences, the best available proxy for illness, fell by 15 per cent in Greenwich, relative to schools in similar London boroughs. And relative to other boroughs, the proportion of children reaching Level Four in English rose by four and a half percentage points (more than six per cent), while the proportion of children achieving Level Five in Science rose by six points, or almost 20 per cent.
If we want to keep the junk out of schools, we’ve got to get heard. Lobbyists are pushing chocolate milk as health food for kids, and our school lunch rooms feature vending machines full of soda and fatty, sugary snacks. Whether you get involved in the Time for Lunch Campaign or reach out to your Congressperson or folks at your local school district on your own, you can make a difference in kids’ health.