Childhood obesity is a growing problem with many possible causes and solutions. Some argue that fast food advertising should be banned, others argue that more physical activity would cure the problem and then there are those who blame the parents, arguing that it is their responsibility to monitor and teach their children to eat appropriately. Children spend a large portion of the year in school consuming many of their daily calories from school lunches; something must be done to make the food they eat healthier.
School lunches are full of fat and calories and do not offer the right type of fruits and vegetables, no appropriate proteins and dairy items. The government has partnered with farmers to provide the food to the schools but in doing so has not offered our children the healthiest options. In addition schools do not have the budget to purchase healthier options on their own and will often subsidize the food program by selling name brand fast food in the cafeteria for a marked up price. Changing children’s eating habits in schools will be very difficult because you can’t force children to eat.
It is uncertain if changing school lunches would decrease obesity or not. Though children are in school for a large portion of the day they still have time at home and if life changes are not made changing how they eat in one area may not do much of anything. Another assumption I have made is that by increasing recess time rather than decreasing it children would not be as obese. The same goes for making physical education mandatory in elementary schools and requiring physical education be taken in each semester of high school.
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Simply changing the lunch menu and offering more lunch time would not necessarily decrease the obesity rate among school age children. Without any type of education to go along with any changes, children may not understand why changes need to be made and why they were being asked to eat healthier and exercise more. These are just a handful of possible solution and it is unclear if just one solution would decrease the problem. The increase in childhood obesity in the United States has soared in recent years.
According to the Center for Disease Control the rate of obesity for children 6 to 11 has nearly doubled over the past 20 years, and tripled for adolescents ages 12-19. (“Childhood Obesity” 2009) Childhood obesity is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a child weighing more than what is “needed to support their growth and development. ” (“Childhood Obesity,” 2008). Children can suffer many adverse effects from being obese, such as joint pain, sleep apnea, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, social and emotional issues and low self-esteem.
Adolescents who are overweight are 70% more likely to become overweight as adults than those who are in normal weight ranges. (Iannelli, 2008) Why is there such an increase in childhood obesity? The answer cannot be narrowed down to just one cause but a multitude of causes and in some cases they all compound. The American lifestyle has become more sedentary, there are more television channels to choose from and continual increase in video game popularity has put children in front of the television rather than playing outside. Children are eating more calories than they are burning off.
Fast food has also taken some of the blame, with busy schedules families look for an easy and quick option for meals and snacks. How can you find a solution to a problem that has so many causes? The truth is, there is not one solution to the problem of childhood obesity, and not just one thing will rid the United States of this epidemic. There are ways to help reduce the statistics including, banning fast food advertising, those in favor argue that children would be less likely to desire these foods if they are not bombarded with advertisements. Opponents however argue that bans don’t work and have failed in other countries. (Balko, 2008).
Another solution is to increase activity in schools; more gym time can give children more opportunity to burn off some calories, yet with the No Child Left Behind Act which focuses on academics many schools find it difficult to find the time (Haskins 2008). Another argument for reducing childhood obesity is the need for healthier school lunches. Children in the United States spend an average of 180 days in school per year (Rosen, 2009) with many children receiving two-thirds of their daily calories from school, something must be done to make the food they eat healthier.
School lunches are full of fat and calories and do not offer the right type of fruits and vegetables, no appropriate proteins and dairy items. There are three categories of food offered in schools, the first is the federal school lunch and breakfast program, the second are a la carte food items and the third is vending machines. Changing the way children eat at school could help combat the rising obesity problem. There are many different ways this can be addressed including, redesigning the school lunch program, eliminating vending machines, or eliminating the a la carte program.
The federal school lunch program began in 1946 as a way to provide healthy meals to all children at the same time the program also helps subsidize U. S. agriculture. Each year, the “federal government buys up more than $800 million worth of farm products” to be used for school lunches. It is a win win situation, schools get free food, and farmers get a steady income. The problem is that the foods provided to schools are high in calories and fat. After the September 11th attacks the beef industry wrote to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman about low sales, two months later $30 million of frozen beef was purchased as a “bonus buy” for schools.
The amount spent on beef and cheese is more than double that spent on fruits and vegetables, most of which are canned or frozen. (Yeoman, 2003) Schools should be receiving healthier foods for their students, and items should be prepared in a healthier way. Vegetable pizza could be served rather than pepperoni pizza, lean ground beef should replace higher fat content beef, and whole milk should be pulled from schools, and students should be able to choose from skim or 1% white milk. Schools, by law are required to “restrict fat content in lunches to 30 percent of the calories served each week.”
The USDA found that 81% of schools are over this limit, less than 45 percent of schools serve vegetables other than potatoes, mostly French fries, on any given day and 85 percent “fail the standard for saturated fat. ” (Yeoman, 2003) Changing a few of the menu items could reduce the amount of calories that are consumed by school children. The flavored milk’s in schools account for a high sugar content, 16 oz of Robinsons Chocolate milk contains 50 grams of sugar, 16 oz of Robinsons whole white milk contains 22 grams of sugar and a 12 oz can of Coca Cola contains 39 grams of sugar.
Chocolate milk contains more than double the amount of whole white milk and slightly less than a can of soda, removing the extra sugar from a child’s diet could help decrease obesity. (Auge, 2009) This piece of evidence shows the difference in sugar content in the same volume of white milk compared to chocolate milk from the Robinson milk brand. The data was also broken down into sugar per ounce with whole white milk containing 1. 4 grams per ounce, chocolate milk containing 3. 1 grams per ounce and Coca Cola containing 3. 3 grams per ounce. (Auge, 2009)
A strength of this evidence is the comparison of how much sugar is contained in the 3 beverages, including a breakdown of how many grams are found per ounce of liquid. This is scientific data that is not biased. A weakness of this evidence is that it is based just on one brand of milk. Other brands may contain more or less sugar. This solution has its drawbacks. To redesign the menus would cost money, money that most parents fell would be better spent on education. Healthier food is more expensive than food laden with fat and calories.
There is no way to predict if this solution would help combat childhood obesity because it assumes all children purchase their lunches from school. Many children bring lunches from home and there is no way to know if these lunches are worse or better than those served by the school. The easiest and lowest cost part of this solution would be to eliminate flavored, whole and 2% milk from schools, there would be no drawbacks to the school but in this case dairy farmers could suffer some loss. According to Jenna Allen from the Western Dairy Association, “About 70% of milk (that) children drink is flavored.
It’s definitely popular. When we eliminate flavored milks we see consumption go down. ”(qtd in Auge, 2009) A weakness of this statement is that it does not state whether or not over a given time if consumption rises once children are use to the lack of choice. Another weakness of the evidence is that is opinionated; there are no facts to prove that milk consumption decreases when flavored milks are eliminated. The author of this statement works in the Dairy industry and will want to sell as much milk as possible she is showing a bias toward any policy that would hurt the bottom line.
A strength of the statement is the percentage given of what kind of milk is being consumed by children and the data given is recent, within this year. Another solution would be to eliminate or change what is offered in vending machines. Vending machines sell sodas in 60% of middle and high schools in Texas and 52% of schools had exclusive contracts with food and drink companies. Typical snacks served in vending machines are high in calories and sugar, both of which should be limited. (Schlafly, 2003) Vending machines provide another avenue for income for schools, and eliminating them would cause schools to lose money.
Snacks and sodas could be replaced with healthier items such as bottled water, sports drinks and healthy snacks. Eliminating or changing vending machines may close the door on snacks purchased within schools but it would not be able to prevent students from bringing soda and snacks from home. The statistics also only discuss vending machines in one state in middle and high schools, there is no evidence regarding vending machines in elementary schools or regarding vending machines in schools in other states.
Eliminating vending machines shows a bias against major drink companies like Coca Cola and Pepsi, the largest companies to hold exclusive contracts in Texas. These companies do not just make unhealthy food and drinks but also market healthier options such as water and sports drinks. The final solution would be to eliminate a la carte programs from schools. Nine out of ten U. S. schools have a la carte programs, serving items from fast food chains. Schools get a cut of the profits from these programs, and school children get a choice between the lunch program and fast food.
(Schlafly, 2003) Fast food chains had sought to sell their products in schools before a la carte programs began but could not serve their items because their foods contained too many calories and too much saturated fat. Pizza Hut came up with the way around these regulations in way of the a la carte programs. Fast food chains no longer had to try and qualify their food under the USDA, and could sell their products for a mark up. (Critser, 2008) 93% of a la carte items were found to be “foods to limit” according to a study done of the Minneapolis-St.
Paul area schools, published in the American Journal of Public Health. (Schlafly, 2003) The weakness of this piece of evidence is that it gives no examples of the foods that should be limited. What kind of food is it, fast food or other snack foods? Another weakness is that the study is not done over a wide range, focusing just on one small area of one state, it could be construed that the author used this evidence to portray what foods are being served around the country but that is not possible by showcasing just one study.
A strength of the evidence is the percentage; it shows that the majority of a la carte items are foods that should not be eating in large quantities or on a regular basis. The reduction of these foods could help reduce the calories eaten by children in schools and help combat obesity. Another strength would be where the study was published; the American Journal of Public Heath is a reliable source. You cannot escape reports on the news regarding fast food and how unhealthy it is, the movie Super Size Me, released in 2004 was a documentary chronicling the journey of one man eating fast food for an entire month, and the negative health reactions from it.
We all know that in large quantities fast food in not good for the body, it is high in calories, fat and saturated fat all of which lead to increased risk for health problems. Removing these items and no longer advertising for fast food in schools can help decrease obesity in children. The drawbacks of this solution would be the decreased funds that schools receive from the a la carte program, money that schools need. This would not prevent children from eating fast food all together, but it could help instill that fast food is a “sometimes” food and not food that should be eaten on a daily basis.
The best solution would be to eliminate the a la carte program from schools. This is the best solution because it would eliminate access to fast food in at least one area of children’s lives. Also, unlike redesigning the federal school lunch program it wouldn’t cost the schools more money, though it would result in lost revenue for schools. There is no one solution that will fix the problem of childhood obesity. Many things need to change in order to help children. Schools house and feed our children for almost half a year and it should be there that we take our first step to getting children to eat healthy.
It will not be easy, schools have to work within budget constraints, which mean that they have to accept food given through government programs. Schools don’t want to run unprofitable lunch programs and a la carte items and vending machines bring in much needed cash. Schools may also view obesity to be a family problem, and that if parents are concerned about the amount of calories children are consuming then parents should be the ones to police it. Change in schools is just one place to start.
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