In the past, countless studies found a strong link between school nutrition and obesity. Not only were the foods themselves less than healthy, but other concerns such as larger portion sizes and rushed meals would also contribute to overweight children.
Thankfully, targeted changes have been made in recent years. We will briefly examine some of the steps that schools have taken in order to ensure that their meal plans no longer place student health in jeopardy.
How do School Lunches Affect Obesity?
Meals while at school represent times for students to relax and interact with their peers. Unfortunately, these activities often came at a price in the past. The lunches themselves were far from healthy.
Common processed foods were:
- Chocolate milk.
Due to the fact that many foods needed to be stored for longer periods of time, they were often laden with artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives.
The problem here is that children (and parents) assumed that schools were concerned with healthy diets. As a result, few questioned the meal plans. Furthermore, there tended to be fewer healthy options (such as vegan-style menus or fruit salad as an alternative to a sugary dessert). School nutrition and obesity were hardly taken as seriously as they should have been.
A Break from the Past
The good news is that things began to change as far back as the latter half of the 1990s. Nutrition programs in schools emerged, helping to teach children about how diets will impact their overall health. There were also instances when children who were prone to obesity obtained specialized dietary guidance from trained professionals.
Another important milestone involved the types of foods offered. Many schools began to shift their focus from mass-produced meals to locally sourced foods. This helped to ensure that the meals themselves were healthier and that fewer preservatives were required to maintain freshness.
The Role of Childhood Nutrition Programs
In terms of leading a healthy lifestyle, knowledge is power. Schools placed an increased emphasis upon nutrition, and entire classes were even devoted to the role of a balanced diet. Children were therefore able to appreciate how certain choices could impact their future health.
However, static knowledge is not often sufficient in and of itself. Schools also encouraged physical activities as opposed to remaining seated for hours at a time; particularly after a large meal. Many institutions likewise created take-home information packets so that parents could become part of the solution.
The Responsibility of Schools in Relation to Obesity
There has been an ongoing debate in regard to the roles that schools need to play when tackling the current obesity epidemic. Some believe that obesity begins in the home, while others firmly stress that school lunches play a pivotal role. Indeed, a recent study seems to favor the latter observation.
A 2023 research paper found that healthy school lunches can help to reduce the BMI (body mass index) of children aged between five and 18 years. It is also logical to assume that younger students who are educated on the importance of a healthy diet are more likely to make informed choices in terms of their meals.
Even governments have realized these positive impacts. Perhaps the most notable example in recent years involves a 2010 mandate that required all schools within the United States to boost their nutritional standards. Such regulations required schools and institutions to offer a more varied choice of foods and to address specific dietary requirements that were frequently glossed over in the past.
Is School Lunch Healthy in These Modern Times?
We are led to ask a final question. Is school lunch good for kids when compared to past guidelines? There is little doubt that the meals themselves have vastly improved. However, room for improvement still exists. Examples include easy access to soft drinks, unhealthy snacks throughout the day, and parents who fail to adopt the practices outlined above.
We also need to remember that childhood obesity can lead to many problems later in life. While targeted and professional treatments such as the Spatz3 adjustable gastric balloon can often result in a significant amount of weight loss, the real solution comes in the form of lifestyle changes at an early age. This is why school nutrition and obesity will remain a top concern of administrators and parents alike.