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Is the New School Lunch Program Curbing Obesity – Or Just Making it Harder to Buy School Lunches?

National School Lunch Program is Drastically Raising School Lunch PricesThe National School Lunch Program has been in effect for about two years now. As outlined in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the purpose of this program was to reduce childhood obesity by reducing lunch calories and increasing consumption of whole grains, fruit and vegetables.

While studies are inconclusive as to whether this new program is reducing childhood obesity, it is getting pushback from students and parents alike.

Why Are People Upset?

While students are getting healthier meals, for many the portion sizes have been drastically reduced. Many students have complained that they’re hungry a couple of hours after lunch. The programs put limits on fat and sodium, meaning that favorites like French fries, nachos and pizza may not be on the menu. The General Accounting Office (GAO) has found that participation in school lunch programs have “declined by more than 1 million since its peak of 31.8 million students during the 2010-2011 academic year. Participation during the 2012-2013 school year dropped to 30.7 million students, the lowest since the 2006-2007 school year when 30.6 million students participated”.

While students like have their choices, parents have been slightly annoyed because they’re now paying more for less – even school districts are feeling the pinch. School districts in De Soto, Kan., have had to raise the price of high school lunches from $2.25 to $2.35 because of the higher price of healthier meals. This has led to fewer students eating the school lunches. Further, the a la carte menu items used to make up 30 percent of the lunch revenue.

Now, the school district is not allowed to sell popular items like cookies, further reducing revenue. The district is trying to make up the revenue without cutting staff.

Is Eliminating All of These Items Even Good for Kids?

One of the first items eliminated from menus was whole and 2 percent milk. According to a study of preschool-aged children in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, kids who drink whole milk were actually thinner than children who drank low-fat milk. The researchers “found the relationship between skim-milk drinkers and higher body weights held up across all racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups. DeBoer says their data also show that low-fat milk did not restrain weight gain in preschoolers over time”.

How to Respond to This?

The School Nutrition Association is lobbying Congress to limit the number of lunch program requirements to help students, schools and parents.

“Some students simply do not want to take a fruit or a vegetable with their meal,” the association notes in its position paper on the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act of 2015. “Forcing students to take a food they don’t want on their tray has led to increased program costs, plate waste, and a decline in student participation.”

This is a tricky situation. Children and young adults need to eat healthier, but is this really the best way to go about it?

Preventing childhood obesity is definitely a need and eating healthier and exercise are ways to do this. Yet, is the National School Lunch Program too restrictive? Are we creating “banned” foods in students mind? Shouldn’t we instead be teaching students that all foods are good in moderation and get away from the mindset of “bad” foods? What are your thoughts on this?

Rachel Levi, LMFT, CEDS, F- IAEDPFounder/Clinical Director
Shoreline Center for Eating Disorder Treatment

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