Healthy food reform is vital for schools
With a new landmark alliance announced yesterday, the future of healthy food for kids in America is looking brighter by the day.
This alliance, between the Los Angeles Unified School District and five other major districts across the nation, aims to transform school lunches. In the wake of ever-growing concerns about childhood obesity, this fresh initiative is definitely a step in the right direction. But it isnâ€™t all that needs to be done in the face of a very real issue in which young lives and futures are at stake.
According to the Los Angeles Times, under the alliance of major districts in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Miami and Orlando, chili cheese fries and chicken nuggets will become foods of the past in thousands of school cafeterias nationwide. These schools, which serve 2.5 million meals daily and spend $530 million annually, are on a mission to â€śmake wholesome food a national standard,â€ť and for good reason â€” a team from the University of Michigan found in a 2010 study that â€śchildren who regularly eat school lunches are more likely to be overweight or obese, and develop poorer eating habits.â€ť
And according to the American Heart Association, about one in three American kids and teens today is overweight or obese, tripling the rate in 1963 and surpassing drug abuse and smoking as the No. 1 health concern among parents in the United States. More diet-related diseases, such as high blood pressure, Type-2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol, are also on the rise among children today.
Thankfully, the quest to reduce fat, sugar and sodium in school lunches has begun in earnest. The nationâ€™s second-largest school district, L.A. Unified, has already taken lengths to ban flavored milk and overhaul the menu for more healthful dishes. The change that this push for health gives could easily become the difference between lives plagued with chronic disease and those without. Not only could it mean a decrease in childhood obesity rates, it could lead to fewer kids with psychological issues regarding self-esteem, negative body image and depression.
And yet, though improving a school menu might be life-changing, it takes more than just better lunches at school to knock negative statistics down.
Longer hours of physical education and more after-school outdoor activities would be a great help. Parents who are more committed to changing their own lifestyles could also help children make healthier choices on their own. Most of all, health education â€” not just starting in middle school, but earlier as well â€” might just make the biggest difference. Though feeding kids healthy meals might be beneficial in the short run, really informing them as youngsters about whatâ€™s healthy and what should be eaten less often would build self-motivation to be healthier with a balanced diet and exercise.
Though opponents of the new school-lunch alliance might carp on about how itâ€™s a waste of taxpayer money and that feeding children well is a parental responsibility, itâ€™s worth pointing out that such broad policies are necessary considering the overall implications of this national health problem. Everyone needs to play his or her part when it concerns the future of Americaâ€™s health, and changes to school diets help ensure that all students benefit from a healthy foundation. The alliance is a good starting point on a path that will hopefully bring more games of four square and skies cloudy with a chance of healthier meatballs.
Valerie Yu is a freshman majoring in biological sciences and English. Her column â€śHeart of the Matterâ€ť runs Fridays.