Packed Lunches Exceeded Fat Rec
School lunches may offer better nutrition compared to packed lunches, suggests a new study. Virginia Tech researchers followed three rural Virginia elementary schools during lunch for five days. The study compared National School Lunch Program (NSLP) lunches with packed lunches for pre-K and kindergarten students. Researchers found that while both packed and NSLP lunches almost entirely met nutrition standards, there were some differences. Packed lunches exceeded both fat and saturated fat recommendations, while NSLP lunches were below energy and iron recommendations. Packed lunches were also found to have more sugar, but NSLP lunches contained more sodium. Overall, researchers believe that NSLP lunches, with increased exposure to veggies and fruits, offered greater nutritional quality.
Students Drink Less Milk
Taking chocolate milk away as a choice in school cafeterias may lead to lower milk consumption and more milk waste, find researchers. Reported in PLoS ONE, the study found that while banning chocolate milk from school lunches can reduce sugar consumption, that gain comes with consequences. The study found that banning chocolate milk leads students to drink 9.9 percent less milk overall. Students also wasted 29.4 percent more white milk. A small percentage of students (6.8 percent) even stopped purchasing school lunches. The before-and-after research on the chocolate-milk ban involved 11 Oregon elementary schools.
Not Just for Richer Districts
Many schools across the US are assessing the offerings from their cafeterias and trying to improve them. The “back to scratch” movement of fresh cooked meals as opposed to factory food is taking hold. This is generally true for richer districts reports the NY Times, but struggling districts that learn to juggle budgets are not exempt. There are obstacles: years of budget cuts, ill-equipped kitchens made for reheating premade meals, outdated wiring and fears of handling and cooking raw meat. Colorado, which has been the least fattest state in the US since federal health measurements of obesity began, leads the nation in the back-to-scratch movement. Many of the state’s schools are working with Cook for America, a group that trains school cooks in healthier food preparation.
But Obesity Is Costlier
In December, the government passed legislation which gives the USDA the power to set and improve the nutritional standards for food provided to school children. Among the changes include establishing calorie maximums, reducing sodium and starchy vegetables, and eliminating trans fatty acids. While health experts applaud the new efforts, some school districts will be financially challenged by the changes. Fresher, less processed foods tend to be more expensive. Many districts have made improvements to their menus over the past several years, including whole grain pizza crusts and whole-muscle chicken tenders. But, with obesity now affecting nearly one of every five American children over the age of 6, “it’s worth the additional money.”
Are Schools to Blame?
Many kids don't drink adequate amounts of water, and some wonder whether school lunches could be to blame. The CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reveals that some children aren't getting enough water, and CNN explores whether lack of available water at school lunch could be the reason. Many school cafeterias don't offer cups which children may fill up with water. Kids often have the choice of orange juice or milk only. For many kids, only water fountains provide water during the day. Even then, kids must stand in line for a few sips. Dr. Melina Jampolis, CNNHealth's Diet and Fitness Expert, says that since kids are at school during so many of their waking hours, they should be obtaining least 50 percent of their total water intake at school.
Sack Your Old Lunch
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley has partnered with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) to promote healthy school lunches to help fight obesity and prevent such diseases as diabetes and hypertension in children and teens. More than 70 percent of school lunch menus are currently too high in saturated fat and cholesterol and low in vegetables, whole grains and legumes. The public service announcement, called “Sack Your Old Lunch!” promotes low-fat, cholesterol-free lunches with essential good nutrition for optimum health and physical and mental performance. PCRM also promotes more vegetable dishes and fresh or dried fruits. Woodley’s PSA can be found at PCRM.org.
Let Them Eat Cucumber
Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative, which would put self-serve school salad bars in 6,000 U.S. educational institutions -- including elementary schools. Initially, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ruled that self-serve salad bars were a food safety hazard for kids, and that only pre-assembled or adult-served salads were allowed. However, Ed Bruske of the Grist interviewed a USDA spokesperson, who revealed that elementary-school children could use self-serve school salad bars so long as these bars had "sneeze guard" barriers sized for children. The Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative is funded through corporate and private donations; under its provisions, the salads would not be mandatory lunchtime fare.
For Nutritious School Food
Yesterday, President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 into law. The bill’s intention is to “provide children with healthier and more nutritious food options, educate children about making healthy food choices and teach children healthy habits that can last a lifetime.” The bill gives the USDA authority to set nutritional standards for foods sold in schools, provides additional funding to schools that meet updated nutritional standards for federally-subsidized lunches and requires schools to make nutritional information available. The bill addresses childhood obesity, a cause championed by Michelle Obama. "I think that our parents have a right to expect that their kids will be served fresh, healthy food that meets high nutritional standards,” she said.
Teach Good Habits Early
Children who consume food and beverages from vending machines are more likely to have poor eating habits that may lead to obesity and chronic health problems, found researchers from the U of Michigan Medical School. "The foods that children are exposed to early on in life influence the pattern for their eating habits as adults," says lead study author Madhuri Kakarala, M.D., Ph.D. Previous studies assessed the nutritional value of school lunches, but this is the first study to look at foods sold in vending machines. Eighty-eight percent of US high schools have vending machines. Soft drinks, fried snacks and desserts are the most commonly vended items. Study authors recommend the restriction of unhealthy vending machine foods in schools, as well as nutrition education in the lunchroom.
You: Back to School
Dr. Michael Roizen, author and MD at the Cleveland Clinic, appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America to talk about foods that children should avoid for lunch, whether eating in the school cafeteria or bringing their own “brown bag.” He recommends avoiding processed lunch meats, such as bologna, which carry an increased risk of heart disease and cancer. Parents should look for unprocessed meats such as turkey breast or roast beef and should use 100 percent whole grain bread. Instead of battered and fried chicken nuggets, which are high in saturated fat and sodium, he recommends finding a brand that uses lean white-meat chicken and whole-grain breading and baking in the oven. Avoid gelatins and sugar-laden puddings and opt for fresh or canned fruit instead.
Schools Do Impact Health
Healthier cafeteria choices plus longer, more intense periods of physical activity and dedicated school education programs can lower rates of obesity and other risk factors for type 2 diabetes according to a national study called HEALTHY. Researchers from the University of California Irvine conducted the study in 42 middle schools with high enrollments of low-income, minority children. Those in the intervention program were given more nutritious food choices, longer gym classes, and a number of school activities, including classroom instruction, that encouraged healthy behaviors. The findings, presented at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association, revealed that students who were overweight in the sixth grade had a 21 percent lower rate of obesity after the intervention.
Increases Sales in Schools
Researchers from the Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab headed up by Dr. Brian Wansink have found that moving apples out of a stainless steel tray and placing them in an attractive basket in a well-lit area increased the sales of fresh fruit by 58 percent in one New York School. The study is part of the university’s “Smarter Lunchrooms” Initiative, an effort to find low-cost solutions for smarter food choices in schools. "The best solution is often the simplest one," said Professor Brian Wansink. "Rather than penalizing a less healthy food choice, we just made the healthier item much more likely to be noticed and chosen." The research was presented at the Food for Your Whole Life Health Symposium in New York City.
Veggies Front and Center
As the rate of childhood obesity continues to rise, policymakers, educators and parents seek ways to ensure that children make healthy eating choices. School cafeterias may offer fast food options but they also offer salads which are often passed over by school kids. Now, a team of researchers from Cornell University has identified an elegantly simple and effective way to get children to make healthy food choices. In a year long study, researchers found that when the salad bar was moved to a more prominent location, sales of fruits and vegetables increased by as much as 300 percent. "By the end of the year, this even led to 6% more kids eating school lunches," said researcher Laura Smith. "It's basic behavioral economics — we made it easier for them to make the right choice."
Taking on the Cafeteria Lady
A group of retired military leaders has announced a new battle. Mission: Readiness, Military Leaders for Kids, a non-profit group of 130 members, is advocating improving the nation’s unhealthy school lunches which contributes to the childhood obesity epidemic. They cite data that at least nine million young men and women are too heavy to join the military and could not pass the minimum physical fitness standards for entry. Because 31 million children across the nation eat lunch at school each day, accounting for about 30 to 50 percent of a child’s total daily calories, the group supports a reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act which, in part, calls for serving more nutritious foods. Investing in children early, the group says, is critical to National Security.
Fights Childhood Obesity
Today, one in three children is overweight and, while rates leveled off recently, childhood obesity is pandemic. California, the first state to restrict the sale of junk foods and eliminate sodas from public school cafeterias, saw a decrease in the number of overweight children three years after the policies went into effect, according to a SF State University study published in the journal Health Affairs. Said Emma Sanchez-Vaznaugh, assistant professor at SF State and one of the study’s authors, "Although policy makers cannot directly influence student behavior, our study shows that governmental policies can help define the environment in which children learn to make food choices and thus shape the food behaviors, influencing overweight trends in entire student populations."