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February 09, 2011

How bad are school lunches, really?

Coinciding with the first anniversary of Michelle Obama's heavily-publicized campaign against childhood obesity, in a new study published in the American Heart Journal, a team of researchers at the University of Michigan found that sixth-graders who ate the lunch provided by their school were 29 percent more likely to become obese than those who brought lunch from home: a greater risk than the scientists found for those who spent a daily two hours watching TV or playing video games, which increased the obesity risk by a mere 19 percent. The researchers also warn that lunch menu promotions common in many schools, like "Tater Tot Day," send an unhealthy message to hungry children.

If at times health advocates have appeared extreme — even "The Daily Show" took a gently satirical look at San Francisco's Happy Meal ban as an act of hippie-ish political correctness, with correspondent Aasif Mandvi offering a group of morose children a scolding Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius figurine in place of their expected toy — it has to show how much traction the issue has in the media.

Whatever you think about Happy Meals, it's parents who are left with the final say in choosing what their kids eat. Do you pack your child's lunch? And can good food help lead to academic success? What do you think?

Via Well, The New York Times's health and wellness blog.


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My oldest son ate school lunch for 1 year. In that year (6th grade) he gained 20 pounds and morphed into a pudgy kid we didn't recognize. In 7th grade we had him start bringing his lunch again and he slowly took the weight off. Now we won't let our 1st grader buy lunch. When he complains that all of the other kids buy lunch we explain that school lunches make kids fat and help him pick healthier alternatives to bring from home. He feels like he's a part of the process and is learning to make healthy food choices.

We pack lunches and have since 1995. It's NOT the government's job to provide food to my kids and if I want to know what my child is eating, I provide it. And I don't complain at what the government can provide or won't provide.

I really don't need them to decide what's healthy for my child, since I know what goes in--we don't eat red meat, but I don't expect others to follow what we do. If we choose to have ice cream or real, homemade mac n cheese, I don't need the food police jumping down my throat.

The good news is, no one has to go hungry. The bad news is, the food might kill you! Like most reported studies, there are probably several other factors to consider. School lunches alone aren't going to make fat kids. I'm assuming that kids who get school lunches are from families who don't have the time or financial resources to pack lunches. I am grateful to the government for making sure that no child has to go hungry. But now that we know that all the corn and soy fillers and preservatives in packaged foods cause obesity, it is time to look for an alternate solution. I look forward to seeing how this problem gets resolved.

My daughter is in school in the Berkeley Unified School District, where we do the school lunch meals about 50% of the time. Alice Water's of Chez Pannise fame, revamped the school lunch and garden program at BUSD. The food includes hormone free milk, organic bread products, and a salad bar. That said, there are days when I look at the calendar and am very dubious regarding the appeal of such healthy creations for children (creamed corn, oven fried catfish), and know the food is not always local or in season. We opt in to the days where the food sounds tastier to my daughter (chow mein, grilled cheese), and pack lunch on others.

Hey, what do you expect for $2.25? A tri-tip sandwich and an ice tea? Not going to happen. The schools are serving what they can, given the budget and time (30 minutes) they have. One of the reasons we have school lunch programs is because the kids were not getting enough to eat (too thin). Now they are getting fat. You just can't please people. If we have learned anything about public programs, it's that you can't expect perfection, just mediocrity. So, tell your senator and congressman to stop wasting our money and let parents take care of their children, as they should.

I ate school lunches growing up because I enjoyed something hot for lunch. I'm still the same way as an adult-I eat out every day. I was a healthy, normal sized child. I'm not sure if the ingredients have changed, or if the kids can now buy a la carte (ours was a very set meal that you could not add to), or if they are over-eating at home in the evenings. But I wouldn't say only poor families buy lunch (we were not), or that it is the single cause (I was not fat). I think you have to take a look at the child's lifestyle as a whole.

I have to add, after re-reading these comments, that secondary lunch systems are much different than elementary systems. To the sixth graders who are gaining weight-most middle schools have a la carte systems that allow parents to put money in an account that the child can then spend it on whatever they want. Soft pretzels and a coke could cost as much as a parent would expect a lunch to, but the parent would have no idea what the food items purchased are. Perhaps getting rid of the a la carte system would be a step in the right direction. I wonder what the risk with set lunches is?

The cost of produce and milk have spiralled out of control. Tell the goverment to stop subsidising these areas, and school lunches will be nutritional and affordable again.

If the schools would quit serving chocolate milk kids would WANT some of the fruit on the salad bar. I see kids pass up,or throw away good food everyday but you better believe they down the chocolate milk to the last drop. Eliminate that and serve water; better nutrition all around.

If money is truly the issue — rather than sheer apathy — then bump my property taxes a few more bucks and get the problem fixed. After having to bail out GM (in spite of the fact that I intentionally don't own any GM vehicles) and the banking industry, I'd sure rather my money went to putting nutritionally-sound food into kids' tummies than lining some other CEOs' pockets.

And maybe if we had booster clubs for other stuff they way that we do for sports, the cafeteria and arts programs wouldn't be in such pitiful shape.

People, it is NOT the school lunches or the need of more PE at school.
Please read, 'rethinking thin' by Gina Kolata
What our kids need is to be kids; have free time for outdoor recess daily, be taken to the park drop-in sports, be given access to a plot to garden, etc.
There is nothing wrong with a kid having a few pounds extra here & there because it is NORMAL & HEALTHY to go through phases of 'pudgy' in order for the body to grow to it's full potential. It is NOT about the weight of our kids, it is about the HEALTH. Fact is, people who are slightly 'obese' actually live longer, healthier lives.
Making schools serve chalk-tasting food will not make them eat it... they will simply skip lunch (a very unhealthy plan) and eat when they get home. It will not save our schools money either - they still have to serve preset amounts of food on the plate no matter if the kids eat or trash it.

I ate school lunches growing up and they were homemade, healthy and good. Now the schools serve prepackaged, high calorie foods. If schools, would cook homemade foods, it's cheaper and healther.
My child does take lunch on the days that corn dogs,chicken nuggets, etc since by the time his class gets lunch everything is cold.

I prepared extra food for my son to bring to school daily. Every time his schoolmates compare the nutrition values, he won. Many of his schoolmates ask to exchange their purchased school lunches with his constantly, but my son guard his meals well. My son was homeschooled many years before entering the public school, he knows the value of balanced diet. I have to admit that my cooking is not very well, but I tried to do my best to keep him well balanced throughout the day.

I am continuing to see more and more articles like this in the news, on blogs. Just a few days ago I was reading on the Denver Post's website about the "school lunch crunch" going on in New Mexico (http://www.denverpost.com/theeconomy/ci_11682480).

As a father to 2 (now grown) daughters, I have been appalled to find some of the food they are providing to children in elementary and middle school these days. When I hear the costs being charged though ($2.25??), I know we unfortunately shouldn't be expecting too much.

Something needs to change. The problem is there are just so many variables that I'm not sure WHAT should be changed first to make the biggest difference in kids' lives.

school lunches are discusting just the other day i found hair in my food gross huh well the people cooking need to wear hair nets thanks for listening

Please... this is hype, and stupid.
You wonder why the school lunches are changing it's because of media and yes, it is getting worse and worse because of media.
A la cart is not always bad for the kids, but parents as well as teachers need to teach them about making balanced choices.
Pudding once a week will not make a kid fat by itself. But never eating the right kinds of food will.
Teach the kids to make healthy choices by putting healthy choices on the a la carte lines. duh!

My daughter started middle school this year. She was allowed to buy 2 days a week. She was told want she could buy on the a la carte. She is 12 years old and she justed decided to buy whatever she wanted on those 2 days. Needless to say she is now on a budget from the school. She is only allow to spend so much a day. I feel a la carte is for older children not a 12 year old.

I agree with your blog. I think school meal should be healthier. I really don't like it that my kids are being served chocolate and coffee milks in school. Also junk food like chips and pizza. I think food service of school department should make some change in schools daily meals. With more freshly cooked food and more fresh veggies and fruits.

It has been a problem for schools over the years. The lack of nutritional foods are alarming.

They seem to have discovered the key factor of children obesity. Rather disturbing news, changes are required. It's rather uncomfortable to always bring food from home.

im 19 years old and i wasnt better off growing up like those greedy rich kids that got what they want. the thing i looked forward to was at least a meal or two in a day...the crooked school system charged almost two dollars for dog food they served us....i couldnt eat it.. ....its terrible its not even real food....as i said i didnt have much growing up but at home i would at least get a real meal and not prison food.....prisoners probably eat better then what they serve at school...something has to be done about it..they need real meat and vegetables...instead of gray taco meat and dried carrots.....its not right...its illegal not to go to school but they feed us shit...what the fuck do they want...of course kids are obese cause they dont eat that garbage at school then they over eat at home..stuffing themselves till they cant move...and the parents arnt helping buying them junk food to eat and not cooking real meals for there kids...but nobody gets it....because now both parents need to work to keep a roof over there heads...unless you have a great job.....even though they dont work nearly as hard as the real hard backbreakers of america

i dont know where yours kid gained twenty pounds in one year from school lunch....thats bullshit...he must of been eating three servings of it or skipping out and going to mcdonalds...cause school lunches arnt that fattening...they have no nutrition...only a few things on the menu will cause obesity...


School lunches may help childhood obesity, but think about the kids that are too slim. I have 3 kids( 8 grade 7 grade and 5 grade) my middle schoolers dump their entire tray everyday. We have no time ti
o pack a lunch though.


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