Guest Post: School meals and childhood obesity: is the connection as strong as we think?

Earlier this week during an in-office conversation about America’s obesity epidemic (these conversations happen a lot at FoodCALC) I was reminded of a Time Magazine article from a few years ago that really struck me.  I handed the article off to my colleague Lara Baldwin who also had some of my similar thoughts on the matter I thought I’d share them with you:

 

Childhood obesity is a hot topic these days, and it seems that everyone is quick to place the blame on someone else, any entity, that could possibly be broken and subsequently fixed.  Restaurant menus, physical education programs, and most recently, school lunch meals, have all come under fire for contributing to childhood obesity.

 

While I agree that these groups individually play a role in childrens’ health, I think it is more important to look at the progression that society, as a whole, has made in contributing to America’s obesity epidemic. 

 

In a memorable summer 2008 issue of Time magazine, childhood obesity was examined from every level: environment, community, education, race, income, diet, neighborhood, and income.

 

 

A particularly interesting piece focused on school cuisine, with compelling pictorials of meals from the 1950s and today.  While a typical school lunch in the 1950’s consisted of indulgent foods like mashed potatoes, pot roast, ice cream, and whole milk, the total calorie count is less than the average school meal today.  My hypothesis is because these “indulgent” foods were at least whole, real, and pure—a luxury that is not afforded to modern school meals consisting of nachos, cookies, and canned peaches.  Can these changes be attributed to schools alone, or are they perhaps, a reflection of society’s priorities and cultural shifts?

 

At the end of the day, segmented groups such as schools and restaurants are merely an expression of society’s values as a whole.  The question of childhood obesity needs to be addressed from its root: obtaining information (and knowledge to interpret that information) to help facilitate the best choices for our society, our children, and ourselves.

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Tags: children, diabetes, diet, education, foodcalc, health, lunch, nutrition, obesity, school

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Comment by Cecile Yap on July 19, 2011 at 9:15am
Obesity today in young and adults is a disease.  Blame it on the media, hypnotizing people to buy what they are marketing, we are bombarded with more or less 3,000 a day food advertisement, but as parents we have to accepts the fault is with us! I have an obese daughter, I just realized if I know what I've learned about Health now, my daughter will not be overweight today! You know who we are today is the results of the 10-25 years Habits in the past!  But there's still good news for obesity, START TO CHANGE A MINDSET TODAY TO LOSE WEIGHT, NOT TOMORROW. . . AND WE BRING BACK OUT HEALTH. . . within 15-30 days! I was there I was obese too, with many pains and with diabetes. When I change my thoughts, everything change. . .
Comment by Marian Johnson on July 6, 2011 at 2:04pm
I can remember school lunches 15 years ago.  Much of it was burgers and fries and other fast food style stuff, because our cafeteria shifted to the concept of "The cafeteria, America's original fast food."  I don't see how one meal, 5 times a week could really contribute so much to obesity.  I can see how, as a society, we are affecting obesity in both adults and children.  Life has become convenient, and we enjoy it.  A trip to the corner store? Hop in the car! Dinner, find something in the freezer and microwave it.  I do not see the correlation of school lunches causing obesity.  I see the dormant attitude in life as the dominating factor in obesity.  If your parents and family are dormant, and the routine is to come home and play video games, eat dinner, do home work and go to bed, are the cafeteria workers in the child's home forcing him or her to do this? What about marketing to children? In the 80s, when I grew up, I was not as battered by advertising as children are now - television, in-store marketing, internet, collaborative marketing.  What about all the junk food marketed to children masquerading as "healthy?" Trix Gogurt, Belly Washers, etc.. Add up the external factors, and I think it out weighs 5 borderline meals at school.

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