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Do You Knew What Your Child’s Eating at School?

Woman and little girl preparing fruit salad

School Issues

The level of obesity that is rising in our children and teenagers is quite alarming. Children who are overweight or obese have a greater likelihood of developing a number of serious health problems as children and as adults. In the United States, 10 percent of children who are two to five years old are already obese. The numbers are higher for children in the six to eleven category (20 percent) and children twelve and nineteen (18 percent).1  The types of health problems that being overweight causes include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and even cardiovascular disease.2

 To reverse this trend, we need to guide and educate our children on what are the best eating habits and exercise habits to promote good health and a healthy weight for their ages and genders. We also need to eliminate potential traps and threats to those good habits so children are not confronted with constant temptations.  One area that can be a potential trap is what happens at school.

School Lunches

 One of the areas that has really become a dilemma for parents trying to promote healthy eating habits for their children is school lunches.  School lunches are not always nutritious, as school districts would often choose to purchase favorites of children because they are often cheaper to obtain by bulk – food items like hot dogs and hamburgers.  These foods are considered to be high-calorie, low-nutrient-value foods, which do not add much to a healthy diet.

In is estimated that over 1 out of 3 middle school students who ate school lunches on a regular basis were either overweight or obese. In addition, these children had higher levels of LDL (a.k.a. “bad”) cholesterol than those children who ate lunches that were brought from home.

In addition, there were other disturbing trends regarding kids who regularly ate school lunches as compared to eating lunches brought from home3:

Overweight or Obese 2+ Servings of Fatty Meats 2+ Sugary Drinks a Day 2+ Servings of Fruits a Day 2+ Servings of Vegetables a Day
School Lunch 38.20% 6.20% 19.00% 32.60% 39.90%
Lunch from Home 24.70% 1.60% 6.80% 49.40% 50.30%

As you can see, the children who regularly ate school lunches were less likely to eat healthy than those children who regularly ate lunches from home.  Children who regularly ate school lunches were more likely to eat more fatty meats, have more sugary drinks, and eat fewer fruits and vegetables than children who regularly ate lunches from home.

You might think that packing your children’s lunches are the way to go in helping them to shed excess weight and to keep them at a healthy weight, but that is not a guarantee that their diet will be a healthy one.

Vending Machines and Trade-Offs Can Ruin the Intentions of a Quality Lunch from Home

After reading the previous section, you’re likely thinking that packing your child’s lunch from now on is the best way to combat this trend.  As good as that intention sounds and is in theory, it’s not quite that simple.

For one thing, there are vending machines in virtually every school.  Those vending machines contain choices that are not that healthy for your child.  Items such as cookies, potato chips, candy bars, and more are waiting in these machines.  In addition, you are not at the school to tell your child what he or she should and should not purchase.  Plus, when it comes to middle school students and above, your children start to assert more of their individuality and control over what they eat when you’re not around, making it even more difficult to choose what they will eat.

In addition, those vending machines that provide sugary sodas and fruit juices are also available in schools.  Obviously, sugary sodas will do major damage to your child’s diet, as many experts call these sodas “empty calories” with tons of sugar, which will make it more likely they’ll gain excess weight.  Even fruit juices, as good as they sound on the surface, can also do damage to your children’s diets because they are usually loaded with sugar as well, making these fruit juices not as healthy as you might think.

Plus, even if you provide healthy drinks and foods in their packed lunches, children will often trade the foods they don’t want to other children who wants those foods and get foods that aren’t as healthy for them in return.  For instance, your child may trade an apple for a candy bar.  There is no way for you to stop this, and you may not even know that this is going on.  All of these trades can also help to sabotage the idea of always packing a healthful lunch for your children.

What Can You Do to Ensure That Your Child is Eating Healthy?

While it’s hard to ensure that your child is eating healthy while at school, do your best to pack his or her lunch with healthy items.  In addition, talk with your child on what it means to eat healthy and why it is important to eat healthy.  You can also work with your school system to try to provide better lunches to the children attending school.  Plus, you can make sure to feed them as many healthy foods as you can when your children are at home to help compensate for any unhealthy foods they are eating at school.

Having a Nutritious Diet is Vital to Living a Healthier Life Now and in the Future

Eating a poor diet is a major reason why many children and teenagers are struggling with obesity today.  This often results from eating poor meals while at school.  By talking to your children about eating healthy and why it’s important to eat healthy, along with packing healthy foods and feeding healthy foods to them outside of school, you can increase the chances that they will continue to eat healthy meals in the future and increase the chances that they will be at a normal weight and live healthy lives now and in the future.

References

1 FASTSTATS – Overweight Prevalence. (2010, June 18). From Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/overwt.htm

2 Freedman DS, Mei Z, Srivinasan SR, Berenson GS, Dietz WH. Cardiovascular risk factors and excess adiposity among overweight children and adolescents: the Bogalusa Heart Study. Journal of Pediatrics.  2007, 150 (1): 12-17.e2.

3 Reports, Studies and Statistics.  (2011)  USSDA Food Review. Retrieved from: fnic.nal.usda.gov/nal_display/index.php?info_center=4&tax_level=2&tax_subject=268&topic_id=1301

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