The National School Lunch Program

October 15-19th of 2012 has been designated as National School Lunch Week. This week is meant for communities across the nation to come together and spread the awareness for the importance of school lunches for the health of our kids. It is a very important time for school nutrition and there are big changes occurring in all school districts. If you have watched the news lately, chances are that you have heard multiple viewpoints regarding the changes to the school lunch program. With childhood obesity being the huge problem that it currently is in America, school nutrition is at the front line for both scrutiny and opportunity.  Recently, I had the opportunity to lecture for an Honors Nutrition course at West Virginia University (HNF 498). I took this as a chance to speak to the students about the most recent revision of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act entitled the “Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.”

Ironically, one of the most targeted complaints is that kids are still hungry due to the addition of the calorie restrictions on school lunches regardless of the title, “Healthy HUNGER-FREE Kids Act of 2010.” Interested to see how some of the students feel? Watch this video that a group of high school students and teacher from Kansas made entitled, “We Are Hungry.” You can also read the article centered around this video here.

This is a very fine line and a very heated argument with good points coming from both sides. Overfeeding children contributes to obesity, while underfeeding leads to poor growth and poor performance. Critics are approaching this argument from many angles. Because food insecurity is an increasing issue, it is not uncommon that a significant portion of students is receiving most, if not all of their meals from the school lunch program. On the other end of the spectrum other kids are filling up on high-calorie, high-fat, and low-nutrient foods and sugary beverages. An article published in the NY Times pointed out a very strong opinion. This article contained a quote from the USDA that stated that according to previous federal audits showed that the average high school lunch before the calories restrictions contained only 730 calories which happens to be under the current regulations of 750-850 calories. While students are currently complaining that they are not being given enough food, the reality of it is – most students are probably just not consuming the foods that they are offered. Psychologists have shown that it can take up to 10 times of exposing a new food to a child before they will even try it, let only accept it. These changes will take time and I think the kids will learn to adjust once both sides work together to form a compromise.

If you are interested in learning more about National School Lunch Week click here and if you would like to read about the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act click here.

What are your thoughts on the calorie restriction for school lunches?

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Childhood Obesity Awareness Month: A Look at the Big Picture

In lieu of September being Childhood Obesity Awareness Month I wanted to look at the big picture of childhood obesity, as well as the entirety of obesity as a National epidemic.

Shocking New Trends for Obesity

A recent report released new findings that if changes are NOT made and the current trend continues, 39 states will have obesity rates soaring above 50% by 2030. Keep in mind that is only the number of adults who are obese (BMI >30) and does not include those who are only considered overweight (BMI between 25-30). This is a HUGE problem for America. Think back to 20 years ago. No state had obesity levels above 15%, yet in 20 years all 50 states could have obesity rates above 44%. 13 states would have obesity rates above 60% with Mississippi tipping the scales with 66%. Colorado would reign of being the “skinniest state” but it’s obesity rates would increase from today rate of 20.7% to 45%. Although they would still have their “bragging rights,” 45% is nothing to be proud of. Since my recent move from Colorado to West Virginia where the obesity rate is currently 32.4%, earning them the title of the 3rd most obese state, the difference was beyond obvious. I cannot imagine seeing those rates more than double in the next 20 years — something needs to change! Click here to view an interactive map with state-by-state data on the current and projected obesity rates for 2030. Currently, roughly 2/3 (66%) of all adults are overweight or obese, which translates to only 33% of adults in America being at a healthy weight. Nation-wide obesity levels total 35.7% of the US population. Obesity is now a nation-wide epidemic and not just concentrated in the South.

2010 Map of State Obesity Rates

2010 Map of State Obesity Rates
Source: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html

Want to see how obesity has dramatically increased over the years? Click here to see the obesity map change from 1985 to today!

Obesity: An Unnecessary Expense

Not only is obesity a huge health concern, it also could lead to an economic crisis. The amount of money spent towards health-care cost will skyrocket from the increased prevalence in diabetes, heart disease, and other comorbidites of obesity. This report projected that by 2030 America will see an additional 6 million cases of type 2 diabetes, 5 million cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, and over 400,000 new incidences of cancer that is directly related to obesity. These levels are already extremely high with 25 million Americans with type 2 diabetes, 27 million with chronic heart disease, 68 million with hypertension (high blood pressure), and 50 million with arthritis today. If obesity continues on the current trend we can easily expect to see an increase of 18 billion dollars each year, which does not account for a decrease in productivity!

View the full report, F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2012 at the Trust for America’s Health.

“Reversing” the Trend

Obesity is considered to be “one of the most challenging health crisis that this country has ever faced.” When we look at starting to “correct” this trend and being able to reduce obesity rates we need to be implementing and promoting small changes for adults. In America, weight loss is promoted as something that should be quick and easy and can be bought; in fact, permanent weight loss should be close to the opposite and should be looked at as a steady loss of 1-2 pounds a week. Increasing exercise, decreasing portion sizes, increasing fruit and vegetable intake, and decreasing high-calorie, low-nutrient foods could lead to the change in the trend of obesity that America needs.

When looking at future trends, our focus also needs to be towards preventing children from becoming obese and ultimately eliminated childhood obesity. Since 2010, the month of September has been dedicated to looking at childhood obesity and raising awareness. Today, nearly one-third of children and teens are either overweight or obese. Since 1980, the rate of childhood obesity has tripled! It has been suggested that this is the first time that children may have a shorter life span their parents. Think about how this can really impact America.

What caused the increase in childhood obesity?

Think back to when you where a kid or to what your parents told you about their childhood. Compare your activity levels and those of your parents with children today and you will most likely see a significant difference in activity levels and habits of children today. Thirty years ago, children walked to school, participated in daily physical education, spent recess being active, and ran around the neighborhood until dinner. Now-a-days children ride buses to school and are replacing their time that was once spent actively playing with playing video games, watching TV and chatting online. The average 8 to 18 year-old spends 7.5 hours each day using TV, computers, video games, cell phones, and movies. Physical education programs and after-school sports are being decreased and even eliminated in some schools to the point that only 1/3 of children are meeting the recommended daily activity levels of just one hour. Back in the day, more meals were home-cooked, less processed, and portion sizes were reasonable. Today, parents tend to be busier resulting in less home-cooked meals. Snacks were once consumed only once or twice a day and now one in five school-aged children consume up to six snacks a day! Portion sizes have increased up to five times larger than they were in the 1970’s.  As Americans, we are now consuming 31% more calories than we were in the 1970’s, yet our activity levels have plummeted. Combine the lack of physical activity with the “fast food nation” our children are exposed to and the result is childhood obesity. It is shocking to find out that many children are unaware of where their food is even coming from and cannot identify the names of common fruits and vegetables. We are setting our children up for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a shorten life span, decreased productivity, and decreased success rates. This needs to end! Children establish their habits and eating behaviors early on and need to have the proper education and resources to do so.

Childhood Hunger and Obesity 

In America we tend to be fighting a double-edged sword when it comes to children and nutrition; obesity and hunger. Although, we tend to associate obesity with having more than enough access to food that is not always the case. One in seven low-income preschool aged children are now obese. One way to fight this epidemic is to look at the source. Most children are receiving meals through the schools and making those meals healthier, more nutritious, and more available can work to fight both ends of the spectrum. I will focus directly on school lunches and legislation involved childhood nutrition in a future blog post during National School Lunch Week, which is October 15-19th. If you would like to get more involved in helping fight against childhood obesity or learn more about it please check out the COAM at http://www.healthierkidsbrighterfutures.org and the Let’s Move initiative at http://www.letsmove.gov/learn-facts/epidemic-childhood-obesity. Are a student at West Virginia University or a resident of Morgantown? Check out what WVU and local programs in the area are doing to help fight against by clicking here.

Sources:

http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html

F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2012

http://www.healthyamericans.org/report/100/

http://www.healthierkidsbrighterfutures.org

http://www.letsmove.gov/learn-facts/epidemic-childhood-obesity