Are The Schools Feeding Kids Too Much Junk?

September 22, 2004

by Laura Dolson

The word is out: kids are eating too much junk, and the schools are feeding it to them. Many states and school districts are starting to make rules about what "junk foods" kids can get at school. How should these decisions should be made? How much of the choice should be in the hands of the students and their parents? I invite you to think about these questions while reading, and then we will discuss them in class.

When I was in elementary school in the 1960's, the "lunch ladies" actually cooked lunch for us every day. Food such as meatloaf, macaroni and cheese (not from a box!), or soup and sandwiches were served, always with a vegetable, milk, and a small dessert. Today, many school lunch menus are more similar to fast food restaurants, making healthy choices more difficult.

Some schools have recently tried changing their menus, offering only nutritious foods. Some famous cases are reporting great success, feeling that the students are better able to focus on classes and have fewer behavior problems since the change. (Read about one such school)

New Rules in California As you know, there has been a change this year in what beverages can be sold to California school children. Elementary school children must only be offered water, or beverages with nutritive value - milk or juice. Middle/Jr. High students can also buy sports drinks, and high school students are allowed carbonated beverages.

Why were these restrictions voted into law? The bill talks about three areas of research. The first shows that young people are drinking more soda and less milk than 20 years ago. The second shows increased risks for obesity and diabetes for those who drink sweetened sodas. And third, there is an association between teenagers who drink a lot of sodas getting more bone fractures (possibly because they are drinking less milk). So there seem to be two different reasons for the change in the law: 1) to prevent students from drinking something that could be harmful and 2) to encourage more nutritious beverages, such milk.

What are other states doing? So far, Texas has the most sweeping regulations related to foods available at school. In that state, carbonated beverages are no longer available for sale at any school site. Snack foods such as chips and cookies have a limit on the portion size. There is a limit on the number of times during the week that fries can be served with lunch. And candies that contain no milk products or nuts can't be sold to students.

Already there has been one change in the Texas regulations, as many parents were upset that they would not be able to send treats to school on their children's birthdays. In response, a "cupcake exemption" was instituted, as long as the treats were given out in the afternoon after the lunch period.

Questions For Discussion:

On what basis should school rules about food be made? What information do we need before making these kinds of decisions? What questions would you want answered?

Who should make these rules? The state? The school district? The school? The parents?
The kids? Which kinds of
decisions should be made by which people?

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