Why School Lunches Could Be Adding to the Obesity Epidemic
Educating your children about food and providing healthy options is key when it comes to tackling childhood obesity.
BY: Nancy Parker
As your child walks in from school, takes off his backpack and slumps on the couch, obviously exhausted from a full day of school, you may wonder why his energy has vanished. Ask him what he had for lunch in the school cafeteria, and you may find your answer.
From pizza and French fries to fruit dripping with rich corn syrup and canned, processed vegetables, your child’s food choices may be less than desirable to a health-conscious parent. It’s no wonder your child’s energy is gone and his clothes keep getting tighter.
Many parents are finding that school lunches could be adding to the childhood obesity epidemic. Luckily, there is something you can do to help.
What’s For Lunch?
“The problem with many school lunches, or meals rather, is that they are highly processed,” says Elizabeth Prebish, registered dietitian for Organic Life, provider of healthy lunches in Chicago, Illinois. “Many school lunches include processed meats, fried foods and high amounts of sugars or carbohydrates.”
With restricted budgets to feed large quantities of mouths, typical food service companies use conventional meats that contain hormones, antibiotics and steroids – all things small children do not need, says Prebish.
In addition to lunch, it’s possible your child is filling up on sweets as well. The school lunch system provides many opportunities for sweets, including offering ice cream and bakery items, not to mention chocolate milk. “Having these items as daily options is definitely a contribution to the obesity epidemic,” says Prebish. “These processed sugars are addictive, leaving children craving the same foods not only in school but when they are home as well.”
From Halloween and fall festivals to school picnics and class parties, a celebration with food is a common occurrence in the classroom. Beyond the gorging of party cookies and cakes, some nutrition experts believe that even healthier snacks scheduled into the daily classroom schedule can contribute to childhood obesity.
“The number one way in which schools contribute to childhood obesity is by scripting snacks into the daily schedule,” says Adrienne Hew, nutrition specialist and founder of NutritionHeretic.com. “Children who are well fed do not need snacks – having snacks scripted into the schedule drives them to want to eat even when they are not hungry.”
The idea of incorporating snacks into the school day derived from a practice used for diabetics that uses small meals throughout the day to help keep blood sugar steady, says Hew. “However, the snacks that are offered to children would kill a diabetic – crackers, cookies, Cheerios and juice,” she says.