School Lunch Changes in the US and what they mean for you

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Studies suggest that by 2030, a whopping 42% of US adults will be obese. Obesity usually starts in schools where young students learn poor eating habits. Bad eating habits stem from a number of factors including the cost of healthy food and the time needed to prepare it as well as school lunches with high fat and calorie contents and low nutritional value. First Lady Michelle Obama has launched the ‘Let’s Move’ campaign to introduce healthier lunches at school in an attempt to reverse the trend to obesity.

In January of 2010, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, announced the new “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010” which saw the first change to the school lunch program in 30 years. Obama showed his support of the change saying; “As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet. And when we’re putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria. When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home. We want the food they get at school to be the same kind of food we would serve at our own kitchen tables.”

The 2012 school year was the first which saw the new menus instituted countrywide. New restrictions limit grain portions to 2oz. a day. Calories are also capped and salt is no longer used to flavor food. While some parents and students have applauded the change, others have criticised the move. Some drawbacks of the new system include:

• Not all children have the same dietary needs
• Proteins are not all the same and shouldn’t be interchangeable as they currently are
• Students who are taller or who participate in lots of sporting activities find the current calorie limits insufficient
• Children who are not getting enough food at home don’t have the option to fill up at school

Of course, the biggest criticism that most students have is that they no longer have a desert option.
While the changes may have some teething problems and some students find healthier foods difficult to stomach, it really is important to make some changes in the way students are eating. The trend to obesity among the student population reduces life expectancy and vastly increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Childhood obesity also increases the risk of cancer.

Children who are obese have a higher risk of having bone and joint problems, asthma and sleep apnea. They also suffer from a higher incidence of social and psychological problems such as poor self-esteem.
If you are concerned about the new caloric limits or are curious about what the new law means for your student’s lunches, talk to your teacher for more information on how the school lunches in your area have changed.

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