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Can School Lunches Contribute to Obesity?

| October 11, 2013 | 17 Comments
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To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDEdspace and end it with #DoNowLunch

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.


Do Now

How do you feel about the lunch program at your school? Does the school cafeteria provide students with a healthy lunch? If you don’t eat lunch from your school cafeteria, do you have a balanced and healthy diet? Take a photo of your school lunch and share it with us.

Introduction

California’s San Joaquin Valley is the country’s most productive farm belt: its fertile orchards and fields generate most of the nation’s fresh fruit and nuts. Yet for the people who work and live near these farms, access to healthy and fresh food can be a daily struggle.

The town of Ceres, near Modesto, is like many small towns in the San Joaquin Valley. The farmworkers who pick the fruits, nuts and vegetables or work in the canneries often don’t have convenient ways to buy the produce they harvest. The lower-income side of town doesn’t have a grocery store, but there’s plenty of fast food. Residents say the tap water is cloudy and smells funny. At the convenience store, bottled soda is cheaper than bottled water.

An estimated one in three children in the Central Valley in California lives in a home that experiences “food insecurity” – not knowing where their next meal is coming from. School meals are an important way to give children the nutrition they need, but Central Valley school districts struggle to source healthy, local food to help combat childhood obesity.

The issue of childhood obesity is commonly referred to as a national epidemic. According to the American Heart Association, about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese, nearly triple the rate in 1963. Among children today, obesity is causing a broad range of health problems that previously weren’t seen until adulthood. These include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels. There are also psychological effects: Obese children are more prone to low self-esteem, negative body image and depression. And excess weight at young ages has been linked to higher and earlier death rates in adulthood.

The Office of the Surgeon General states in The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation that healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing obesity related diseases. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website states that schools play a particularly critical role by establishing a safe and supportive environment with policies and practices that support healthy behaviors. Schools also provide opportunities for students to learn about and practice healthy eating and physical activity behaviors.

Federal regulations limit fat to 30 percent of lunch calories, but hundreds of school districts have fed children fattening, salty and nutritionally deficient meals and face infrequent oversight. A CIR analysis shows 60 percent of the school lunches reviewed by the state in the past five years failed to meet at least one federal nutritional requirement.

Congress created the National School Lunch Program (could be a bad link due to the Federal Government shutdown) in 1946 to address malnutrition in schools while dealing with agriculture surpluses. The $10.8 billion program serves about 32 million lunches a year, nearly two-thirds of which are provided free or at a reduced price to low-income students.

To receive federal funding, schools are required to meet nutritional benchmarks, including limiting fats and serving enough calories. Does your school meet these nutritional requirements?

Resource

KQED News video Hunger in Valley of Plenty: What’s for Lunch? – Oct. 8, 2013
An estimated one in three children in the Central Valley lives in a home that experiences “food insecurity” – not knowing where their next meal is coming from. School meals are an important way to give children the nutrition they need, but Central Valley school districts struggle to source healthy, local food and combat childhood obesity. About the project: “Hunger in the Valley of Plenty” is the seventh special to come out of KQED and CIR’s multimedia partnership.


To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #DoNowLunch

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to reply to other people’s tweets to foster more of a conversation. Also, if students tweet their personal opinions, ask them to support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets like memes or more extensive blog posts to represent their ideas. Of course, do as you can… and any contribution is most welcomed.


More Resources

KQED Forum episode Is Obesity A Disease?
The American Medical Association decided recently to classify obesity as a disease. Their decision has drawn controversy: Supporters say the label could spur health insurers and the government to fund anti-obesity services. But opponents say obesity is a risk factor, and calling it a “disease” further stigmatizes overweight people. We discuss the controversy. This is an hour long program, but scroll down to view the show highlights.

New York Times post New Rules for School Meals Aim at Reducing Obesity
Hoping to combat the growing problem of childhood obesity, the Obama administration on Wednesday announced its long-awaited changes to government-subsidized school meals, a final round of rules that adds more fruits and green vegetables to breakfasts and lunches and reduces the amount of salt and fat.

KQED’s The Lowdown post Infographic: What Does it Mean to Be Poor in America?
Earlier this month, the U.S. Census Bureau released a series of 2012 income data for American households. The figures shows that despite the nation’s supposed economic recovery, average American household incomes didn’t really budge from where they were the year before. Meanwhile, the poverty rate remained at roughly the same level as it was in 2011 as well.

KQED QUEST video Childhood Obesity: Kids Fight Back
One in six kids in the United States is obese, a condition that doubles their risk of heart disease. Castro Valley teenager Lorena Ramos has been overweight since she was a small child. Now, with the help of her mother and the Healthy Hearts clinic at Children’s Hospital Oakland, she’s fighting to exercise, eat healthily and drop weight. Will she succeed? Watch our story to find out.


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Category: Do Now, Do Now: Government and Civics

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About the Author ()

Matthew Williams is a filmmaker and media educator who has recently transplanted to Oakland from Los Angeles. He believes that you are what you eat and feels everyone should have a multitude of dietary options for self-realization. Matthew is the Educational Technologist at KQED.
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  • Colby Rog

    I do believe that schools play an important role in a child’s lifestyle, as to whether it’s healthy or not. A child spends anywhere between 6 to 8 hours at school, far too significant of a time for anyone to deny the impact. A student eats their lunch at the school, as well as P.E. and snacks. Of course the lunch provided for the school has an impact on a child’s weight. 33% (assuming a child eats about 3 meals a day) comes from whatever the school provides. If they provide a greasy piece of pizza then 33% of a child’s diet is greasy pizza, versus if they provide a healthy, whole-wheat piece of pizza, then 33% is a healthy, whole-wheat pizza.

    Also, it is ridiculous to think that kids will not be influenced by what they see their peers and themselves eating at school. Kids are taught that school is good for them, so why wouldn’t the meals provided be. I strongly feel that school lunches contribute to child obesity, both the physical lunch provided as well as the influence they get from seeing potentially unhealthy lunches around them at a place of learning.

  • Brooke P.

    Our school lunches have gottren better since last year. They look better, so all the kids are more likely to eat it. But making the lunches “healthier” isn’t really the main cause of obesity. And kids should have the choice of what they want to eat, it isn’t the schools choice.

  • Andrew Johnson

    I feel that present-day school lunch programs are leaning towards an unhealthy and unbalanced diet. For example, nowadays more unhealthy foods such as pizza and hamburgers are being offered. These foods are known to cause problems related to the heart, due to the high cholesterol count in each food item. Lunch programs should lean towards a diet related to healthy items, like vegetables and fruits. Unhealthy foods should either be not served or are charged extra for them.

  • Michelle Dwyer

    Lunches from last year and the years before that were horrible, but this year my school got a new company and some of their food is good but isn’t all that great. But if my school wants us to eat healthier then what ps the point in selling pizza everyday. They put different topping on it but the kids will obviously eat the one that they are certain don’t have fruits or veggies on it. It may be better because they are probably making it with whole grain bread less grease and low fat chess but they sell that every say with other foods like spaghetti and others stuff. So what’s they point in making us eat healthier of your going to serve pizza everyday.

  • Alex M

    School lunches can definitely contribute to obesity. Every school I have attended has had a couple options each day for school lunch, among these choices were salads and/or fruit. The problem is, almost no kids will choose salad when the other choices are hamburgers and fries, pizza, etc., and especially when salad was usually the more expensive option. Schools could take steps to make school lunch healthier, such as making the healthy options cheaper, or instead of chips and fries coming with a hamburger, it could be fruit.
    While many schools have healthy options, most kids aren’t going to go for those. At my middle school, the salad and turkey sandwich line was very short, a 2-3 minute wait, but still people waited 10-15 minutes for a single piece of pizza. So while there are healthy options available, kids will still go for the unhealthy option.

  • Areleesia Bell

    The lunches at my school have gotten better since last year. I’ve noticed that there are more students in line getting lunch now. I really don’t think that school lunch has anything to do with unbalancing our diet because we pick and choose what we want to eat.

  • Shanika Walker

    The school has really changed overtime, t has made a big impact since last year. Our school dont serve us alot of beef this year like they used to do last year. This year it is more healthy, they give us baked chips with subway sandwiches and turkey burgers with light salted fries. They have really improved according to the healthy standards. I think that we have a very balanced meal and healthy.

  • Carlethia Fannin

    The school lunch have most definitely increase this year. When its time for kids to get lunch some of them be the first one in line to eat lunch. Then the parents wonder why their children is gaining alot of weight.

  • Lloyd Shearer

    @KQEDEdspaceThe lunch program at my high school is very nutritious. My school even has infomation about their lunch, like the calories and ingredients on their website. #DoNowLunch

  • Christopher Boyd

    I think the lunches are too healthy.

  • brian l

    Overall the food at my school is healthy, even though it lacks variety is healthy. At my old middle school the food wasn’t as healthy or tasty and on several occasions we saw rats in the cafeteria.

  • Safaa Jamshed

    Even though I homeschool and my co-op does not provide with school lunches, I have been to public schools before and their lunches usually aren’t very nutritious. Most of the time, the lunches consisted of a main meal (usually a sandwich or a burrito), milk, and a dessert. Occasionally, there would be an apple or another fruit or vegetable, but most of the time there wouldn’t be. All over the U.S., most children are consuming these lunches every day and since they are so unhealthy, I think that they definetely contribute to obesity. Becuase my co-op doesn’t have a cafeteria, my mom packs my lunch for me and it always has a main meal, fruits and vegetables and a small snack. Although school lunches are improving, I think that we should work harder to implement healthier school lunches in the United States.
    -Ms. Chen’s student

  • Tiffany Young

    I don’t think that school lunches are the reason that kids are getting obese. It’s what they are eating outside of school that are making them obese. They see signs like “$1 McChicken” versus a “$3.99 Salad”, of course they would choose the $1 McChicken, because it’s cheaper; it tastes better as well. Some of the kids want to eat healthy and to eat the salad, but it’s hard to generate that income to support healthy eating for even the rest of the year. The school lunches that I’ve had looked really healthy; they always had a side of a fruit and a bag of carrots, and there was always a main meal, and a carton of milk. Plenty of nutrients, not fats, so it’s not likely that school lunches are the reason for obesity.

  • jasmine gastelum

    Lunches from last year and the years before that were horrible, but this year my school got a new company and some of their food is good but not all of it is good. But if my school wants us to eat healthier then what the point in selling pizza everyday. They put different topping on it but the kids will obviously eat the one that they are certain don’t have fruits or veggies on it. It may be better because they are probably making it with whole grain bread less grease and low fat cheese but they sell that every day with other foods like spaghetti and others stuff. So what’s the point in making us eat healthier if your going to serve pizza everyday.

  • Austyn Mikolon

    School lunches are somewhat healthy but on the other hand they can be a big contributor to obesity. At our school our lunches usually consist of 4 to 5 choices. Some healthier than others. One thing that my school is doing to prevent this is they make us take a fruit or a vegetable. Although some people don’t eat it at least there trying.

  • Jae Hun

    Food at my school is healthy, but I think the main reason kids get fat is because they eat junk foods after school. Even if they make school foods healthier, kids will still find a way to eat junk foods.