Should the federal government require healthy school lunches?
Nov. 7, 2012
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer
When the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) implemented its new guidelines for school lunches in August – increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables and curbing fatty foods like French fries – some complaints were expected. But in several schools across the country, full-blown student boycotts have been started to protest the reduced-calorie lunches.
Under the new federal guidelines, portions shrank, and many students were upset.
The reduction in serving sizes comes in response to USDA guidelines that aim to curb childhood obesity. The USDA, which decides what's on school cafeteria menus, has made it a priority to educate students about healthy eating habits. It was required to update its nutrition guidelines by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 passed by Congress.
“This year you’re eating lunch and you’re like, ‘Did I even eat?’ You’re not even full,” said Parsippany High School senior Derricke Dennis of Parsippany, N.J. Dennis’ comments have been echoed around the country, and some students are boycotting their schools’ lunches, bringing lunch from home instead.
At Plum School District in a Pittsburgh, Pa., suburb, student Sean Doyle started #BrownBagginIt, encouraging his fellow students to bring their lunches instead of paying $2.50 for the cafeteria food.
The guidelines require schools to serve twice as many fruits and vegetables and limit proteins and carbohydrates. The total calories for lunches had to be cut to 750 to 850 calories. The restrictions have many students, and their stomachs, grumbling.
“If someone is obese, why should someone like me who’s not obese have to suffer, and eat a small meal when I’d rather have a bigger meal?” Dennis said.
Government officials understand the students' complaints, but they cite the growing threat of obesity as a greater concern.
“We understand that change is difficult,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said. “Some folks love it, some folks have had questions about it, but that’s to be expected when you’re dealing with 32 million children and you’re dealing with over a hundred thousand school districts.”
Vilsack said snacks would help curb students’ hunger pangs in the afternoon. He said the Obama administration is working with school districts to set up snack programs.
Kristi King, a pediatric dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said the increased amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole wheat should make the students feel fuller if they eat them. The foods are heavy in dietary fiber, which takes longer to digest, King said.
“It should be making kids fuller if they are actually consuming the whole product,” King said. “If children are not picking the entire meal available to them, they are obviously going to be hungry.”
Childhood obesity is one of the leading threats to the health of the nation’s students, and obese children are more likely to carry obesity into adulthood. With the nation’s waistline expanding, health care costs increase. A group of retired military leaders, Mission: Readiness, says obesity has become a national security issue because the readiness of the U.S. military is threatened when one out of four adolescents is too obese to serve.
What do you think?
Do you agree with the USDA’s guidelines that increase fruits and vegetables and reduce calories and unhealthy food? Should the government have a role in deciding what’s on the school menu? Is obesity a problem that the government should address? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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