17% of U.S. children are obese and one-third of all U.S. are obese costing the country over $147 billion in 2008 due to obesity-related medical care costs in 2010 yet processed foods and advertising from ‘junk food’ companies are still allowed in schools. In 2010, the USDA released changes to the school meal standards lowering the amount of starchy foods, yet sugar is still not regulated.
‘Instead of serving the peaches in a plastic cup on the side, the canned fruit is mixed right in with the oatmeal,’ writes Ed Bruske on the Better D.C. School Food blog, which promotes healthy eating in the District of Columbia, and regularly publishes photographs with cafeteria servings. “The carrots and broccoli arrive already cut into pieces and refrigerated in plastic bags,” he writes adding that many vegetables will get pushed into the rubbish bin.
The District of Columbia passed the Healthy Schools Act last year which aims for all schools to reach the ‘gold-standard’ of the HealthierUS School Challenge run by the USDA. As part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move money to the sum of $2,000 is given depending on the standard reached in the HealthierUS School Challenge. More photos of the lunches are available from Ed Bruske on the Better D.C. School Food blog under the title of ‘What’s for Lunch’.
Many schools are also turning to providing foods that are not part of the usual school meals program, to supplement money granted from the USDA school meals program. Around 64% of middle and high schools offer sugar drinks for sale as ‘competitive foods’, in that they are sold separately from the USDA school meals program whilst 49% allow the advertising of less healthy foods in their schools according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
Pushing out chicken nuggets, fries and chocolate will be hard but asking school councils and districts for small changes to school menus is a feasible step that will cut the $147 billion Americans spent on obesity care costs in the future and promote healthy living for the future generations.