Obesity and disease are more evident now than ever before; the numbers are rising as the days go by, and health is no longer something we can take for granted. Unless we take steps to preserve it and nurture it from childhood, we risk falling prey to illness and poor health as we grow older. We all know that the key to holistic health and wellbeing are diet and exercise – watch what you eat and work out five days a week. However, we fail to encourage our children to adopt this way of life, and because of this, we fail at providing them with a healthy life.
While many parents are guilty of feeding their kids junk food that’s filled with sugar, salt, fats, and preservatives because it’s easily and readily available and doesn’t take too much effort, schools too are responsible for feeding this unhealthy practice. They sell junk food, sugary and salty snacks, and sodas at their cafeterias and through their vending machines. And they don’t stress or encourage healthy food choices for students. According to a study conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), an organization that launched the Healthy School Lunches campaign, menus in most school lunch programs are high in saturated fat and cholesterol and low in fiber, vitamins, legumes, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.
While some schools are coming around and offering more in the way of salads, vegetables, fruits, wholegrain bread and low glycemic carbs, others are not in a hurry to change the menu of pizzas, fries, candy bars and sodas that are a staple in their cafeterias and vending machines. There are two reasons for this – one is that the manufacturers of processed and junk food push to have their products sold in and around schools because kids are their biggest and most lucrative customers; and the other is some schools feel that it’s just too much trouble and costs too much to change their ways and focus on providing healthy meals every single day.
The problem with unhealthy meal choices for children is that besides promoting obesity and disease in adulthood, it dulls their ability to learn and concentrate when in school. A child who eats sugary cereals and breads made of white flour for breakfast is bound to feel lethargic and sleepy in class. Besides this, they crave food even though they’re not really hungry, and this makes them overeat at lunch time. When lunch consists of pizzas and soda, the vicious cycle continues. They lose out on nutrition and don’t have the energy required to stay focused in class and perform on the field.
So what would bring about a change in the state of our schools? The key here is awareness – as more and more parents become aware of the need for change, they must push their child’s school to effect a positive change. Sure they could pack lunch for their child, but what’s to prevent him/her from indulging in junk food at school? Schools can take advantage of various programs like the one run by the PCRM which works with school districts across the country, organizes meetings and presentations, and helps with meal planning and recipe ideas.
It is initiatives such as these that are responsible for the change in some schools – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 percent of states now ban schools from offering junk food in vending machines; only 25 percent of schools still sell unhealthy baked goods; 73 of schools offer salads on the lunch menu; and 46 percent of schools offer water as opposed to soda.
With increased awareness and more support from district administrative boards, it is possible to provide healthier and more wholesome food options in schools.