The School's Role in Providing Healthy Foods for Students
In the October 2005 issue of AASA’s monthly publication, The School Administrator, Howard Taras, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego, said, “Whoever is providing food for our children should be responsible for the foods they provide.”
Does this describe your school district?
School lunches often feature fattening foods that kids enjoy — like pizza and tacos — rather than fresh fruits, vegetables, or salad. Much of the attention in the campaign against childhood obesity has fallen squarely on the total removal of vending machines from elementary schools and the replacement of highcalorie snacks and drinks with healthy, lower-fat, lower-sugar options at the middle- and high-school levels.
Equally important, school leaders and health officials say, is the attention given to teaching the tenets of healthy eating to students and providing them with healthy choices in the school cafeteria. While necessary, this is still not sufficient to reduce the incidence and prevalence of childhood obesity.
Children and youth must also adopt more active lifestyles. This is part of the important energy balance — whose classic definition is “the balance between energy taken in, generally by food and drink, and energy expended” (NCI 2004). That means healthy eating and physical activity must play a role in maintaining a healthy weight.
Vending machines that sell high-calorie drinks and snacks are common in many middle and high schools, and even in some elementary schools. The income from contracts with national vendors to operate these machines is often considerable and is used to fund school activities that have been crowded out of strapped budgets. There is little emphasis on a comprehensive health and nutrition curriculum, so students have little knowledge of the long-term impact of their eating habits, especially in terms of disease and chronic illness.
The Louisiana Public Health Institute (2005) says that getting vending machines out of schools is a good thing for our children, and cites research that shows the effects of soft-drink consumption on obesity levels.
- The odds that a child will become an obese adult increase by 60 percent with each additional daily soft drink serving.
- Over-consumption of soft drinks and snack foods play a key role in obesity.
- Consumption of soft drinks can displace healthier foods, such as low-fat milk, from children’s diets.
It is in the interest of our children’s health to remove unhealthy foods from school vending machines, but we know this is not an easy call. For example, compliance with a recent Oklahoma state law to meet new dietary standards in vending machines at schools is likely to have some budgetary effect, says Steven Crawford, superintendent of the rural Byng District in Ada, Okla. “Other superintendents I have talked to say their (vending machine) income has dropped by half,” he says, but adds, “This is not (revenue taken from) the general fund. This goes to sports and academic enrichment. We will have fundraisers to make up the difference.” It is possible, therefore, to have healthier foods in vending machines while maintaining fiscal responsibility.
Reprinted with the permission of the American Association of School Administrators. © AASA
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