Backlash in the School Cafeteria

 


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Almost one in five school-aged children is considered obese in the United States. In addition, kids are showing signs of chronic diseases that usually don't appear in human beings until middle age - diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart problems, and gall bladder diseases, diseases that develop largely because of a lifetime of poor eating habits. And school lunches aren't helping!

The combination of poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle - lots of time in front of the computer, TV, and video games - are wreaking havoc on kids from preschool through high school, and the practice of hiring corporate fast food giants like McDonald's and Pizza Hut to run school lunch programs, coupled with the presence of vending machines filled with candy, sodas, and other sugary snacks, is contributing to the problem.

Luckily, parents and health professionals have wised up, and are fighting back. School administrations around the country are removing vending machines from schools or filling them with healthier snacks, and rejecting McDonald's in favor of healthier school lunches. Sodas filled with sugar or suspect sugar substitutes are giving way to bottled water or pure fruit juices , still containing some natural sugars but devoid of added sugar concentrates like high-fructose corn syrup, and containing more nutritional value. Fries, burgers, and pizza are being replaced with baked potatoes, salads, fresh fruits and healthier protein sources such as chicken, fish, and even vegetarian sources like beans and tofu.

Both Senators Frist (R-Tennessee) and Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced bills in the U. S. Senate in 2005 to reduce childhood obesity by improving school lunch programs around the country, prodded by Parentsaction.org, a parents’ lobbying group determined to changes things for the better in the country's lunchrooms. Meanwhile, kids are responding surprisingly well to changes that have already been made in many schools, many students opting for healthier foods even when the less healthy versions are still available side by side with the healthy options. School fitness programs are also being reviewed and adapted to assist children with weight issues, with varying degrees of success.

The problem of childhood obesity grew over a period of years, and isn't going to go away overnight; but with parents, teachers, school administrators, and even politicians looking at the problem, the possibility of long-term solutions for kids at risk look better than they ever have. And with more of an understanding of how obesity overtakes a child, and possible solutions, kids today are more likely to get help than the ostracism and blame they would have received in the past.

Aldene Fredenburg is a freelance writer living in southwestern New Hampshire, who has written numerous articles for local and regional publications. She may be reached at amfredenburg@yahoo.com .

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