The National School Lunch Program: Contributing to Childhood Obesity?
Continuing with the discussion of the National School Lunch Program from last week, I found criticism of the nutritional value of the foods provided as well as steps the Obama administration is taking to curb childhood obesity.
The National School Lunch Program is a federally funded program that provides reduced-price or free lunches daily to over 30.5 million American children.
To qualify for free meals children must come from families “with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level”. To give you an example, 130% of the poverty level for a family of four is a total household income of $28,665.
Participating schools receive cash subsidies for the lunches (and in some cases after-school snacks). The average cost for one free lunch for one student for one day is $2.68.
According to the official website of the National School Lunch Program, the total cost of providing these free and low-cost lunches was $9.8 billion in 2008. That’s a big price tag, especially considering that many students find the food “nasty” and refuse to eat it. (See last week’s post.) And, as you’ll see below, the food may be contributing to the rising rate of childhood obesity.
Here is an excerpt from a U.S. News & World Report article from 2009 called “School Lunches Too Fatty and Sugary, Critics Say” that examines the low nutritional value of school-provided lunches. Writer Amanda Gardner reports:
“Unhealthy eating at school, these food experts believe, is contributing to the surge in obesity rates among U.S. children. Obesity rates have more than doubled among infants and toddlers aged 2 to 5, quadrupled in children aged 6 to 11 and more than tripled among adolescents aged 12 to 19, according to an editorial in the journal.
“The rising rates have health experts concerned about a nascent epidemic of obesity-related diseases, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, in young people…
“Sam Kass, the chef who followed the Obamas to the White House, also has put the school lunch program under fire. According to a report in The New York Times in January, Cass attributes the nutritional shortcomings in school lunches, at least in part, to the use of donated surplus agricultural commodities that result from government subsidies.
“ ‘As a result, he says, meals served to students are low in vegetables and disproportionately high in fat, additives, preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup,’ the Times report said.”
To me, the frightening thing about this article is the idea that we’re making children fat by serving them free, low-nutrition meals to the tune of about $10 billion dollars a year. So we’re spending lots of money on foods that kids either find nasty and won’t eat or will eat to the detriment of their health. Government at its finest?
In recent news, First Lady Michelle Obama looks at how America might combat childhood obesity by changing the foods provided in schools and motivating children to exercise more.
Here’s an excerpt with source information at the bottom:
“…First lady Michelle Obama launched her highly buzzed campaign to fight childhood obesity today, a problem she called one of the ‘most serious threats to (children’s) future.’
“The initiative, dubbed ‘Let’s Move,’ presents a bold and ambitious agenda to reshape how American children eat, move, and live.
“…Among the initiatives in the agenda are bringing healthier lunches and snacks into school cafeterias, eliminating “food deserts” by opening grocery stores in under-served communities and encouraging children to be more active by joining the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge.
“…Childhood obesity threatens to make this generation of American children the first to live shorter lives than their parents, doctors say. And those lives could be riddled with some surprising consequences. Overweight girls are more likely to enter puberty earlier, while overweight boys tend to have delayed puberty.
“Additionally, obese children are more likely to suffer from asthma and the extra weight can cause liver problems and Type 2 diabetes, which is an adult disease. The arteries of overweight children often resemble those of a 45-year-old, which can lead to heart disease.
“Obese children are also more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, experts say.
“White House Launches ‘Let’s Move’ Campaign to Fight Childhood Obesity: First Lady Michelle Obama Pledges to Increase Number of Healthy Schools”
By Sharyn Alfonsi and Christine Brozyna
ABC News, Washington, Feb. 9, 2010
I welcome any comments on the matter!