School Meals Programs in the US
“A 2009 investigation by USA Today found that U.S. schools wouldn’t meet the quality or safety standards of fast-food restaurants” and this is a shock as well as a disservice (Oberst 1). This distressing research shows the lousy state of the school lunches that are currently feeding the future of America. Presently, many children are being fed unhealthy foods with degrading nutrition. School lunches need to improve from processed and unhealthy food to nutritious vitamin rich sustenance to feed students.
The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids (HHFKA) Act provides federal funding for school meals and increases access to healthy food to students. Another program currently in place is the National School Lunch Program, often referred to as NSLP, which is also a federally assisted program to produce nutritional but inexpensive food or free school lunches. To receive full or partial federal funding from the NSLP the schools must meet the nutritional standards based on dietary guidelines for Americans. Oberst finds that over 31,000,000 students and 100,000 public or non-profit schools receive federal assistance with the expense of school lunches (2). “As long as tens of millions of families depend on school meals for a fundamental part of daily nutrition, we all have a stake in making them healthier” Ocean Robbins an American author and CEO and founder of Food Revolution Network (Robbins qtd. in Oberst 2). This is why the school lunches need a reform.
Nutrition and Health Problems in America
The community that does not support healthier lunches have opposing points to the argument to have more healthy school lunches. One such point is that the students may not eat it. The food tastes horrible, looks unappealing, or smells bad so they inadvertently are hurt because they refuse to eat it and receive no nutrition. Following this, if they do not eat it, they will throw it away and that is a waste of money as well. Healthy food on this scale would cost too much and schools would lose money, or the students will bring in their own lunch from home, and that is not as healthy. The health problems in America cannot be ignored. The journalist Oberst found that obesity tripled from 1970 to 2000 (6). That statistic would be with everyone in America, but even scarier is the figure that one in five children living in the United States is obese. With an exponentially growing obesity rate, this is becoming a crisis (Centers for Disease Control qtd. in Anderson, Gallagher, Ramirez Ritchie). With obesity, comes type two diabetes, stroke, heart disease which is the main killer in the United States, and much more health problems. While trying to help those obese is necessary, people need to also take preventative steps to help the children living in an obese world.
Oberst insists that most two-year-olds will be obese by 35 (7). He goes on to say a statement some would disagree with, the more strict the states’ school lunches, the healthier and less obese students are (6). This is a well placed step into stopping obesity from becoming even more of a national crisis. Most people would not like change, but when change is needed it must be done. Oberst then gives the advice that nutrition in the right amount is very effective to reduce childhood obesity (6). With this knowledge, it would be in the best interest for the next generation and their caretakers to change their eating habits to help reduce the obesity problem. The contents of school lunches are not helping, but they could help when changed for the better. School lunches have enough vegetables in our diet, but Oberst points out that half of those eaten by students between the ages of two to nineteen were french fries (6). Most people are unaware of how this could have happened, or why this could be allowed.
The science reporter Brueck assures us that whole grains are good for students, and they help students focus and feeds growing minds. She continues to say while whole grains are only required to be fifty percent of the grain category, the rest is made of refined grains (2). When forced to give students a healthy lunch, the rules still allow for a large number of unhealthy things. The name refined could be misleading; it is not refined to be made healthier, but it is stripped of all its nutrients and is quickly turned into sugar in the body, which adds to weight gain. Brueck confirms that consuming too many refined grains could lead again to diabetes and heart disease (2).
Factors Leading to Disease
Diabetes is a leading factor in forming heart disease. The CDC shows us a disturbing fact that heart disease is the cause of one quarter of deaths every year in the United States (2). With many deaths being preventable, why will people not stop them. The government is not helping either when Oberst dug deeper into what the USDA spends the money on to help both the school lunch programs and the economy. He found that they spend 64 percent of their hundreds of million dollar budget is spent on factory farmed animals every year (2-3). Brueck tells us that their budget is also spent on heavily processed foods, which are not very healthy (2). The reasons why you should not eat factory farmed animals are explained by Dr. Lipman as he states that factory farmed animals mainly eat the cheapest food they can be fed to keep costs low (1). That is what the business’ do, they cut the cost for more capital and continue to forget and fail the consumer. Lipman draws the conclusion that with these cheap and non-nutritional foods the livestock is given, the consumer of these animals would get little nutrition as well (1). Factory farmed animals spend their lives in tight spaces where diseases spread quickly and in the vicinity of manure as well.
Eating the heavily processed foods along with factory farmed animals results in less nutritious and diseased food that is fed to the students in schools. When feeding a student a balanced diet filled with whole grains, minimal salt, and vitamin filled food, this will reduce the probability of heart disease and obesity. Most people will not think about the academic development that will grow their knowledge and minds for the better. Oberst found a study conducted in Greenwich school. He stated they switched from low-budget meals filled with processed foods and minimal nutrition standards to a healthier option. As a result, Oberst found that the school declared that the educational fallout improved and authorized absences dropped by 14 percent (5-6). This is one of many studies shown to increase the grades and test scores of children involved. A 2008 study by the Journal of School Health stated that when used effectively, school nutritional plans “have the potential to improve student’s diet quality, academic performance, and, over the long term, their health” (School health qtd. in Oberst 6). This means with a good nutrition plan and good programs, children could be learning more and retaining the information.
The absences are related to fewer sick days and in turn, creates a healthier environment for teachers and students. To further reinforce the idea of an academic increase when given a better diet, another study that was conducted at Berkeley found that as a result, the students who ate healthier school lunches received higher test scores on exams (Berkeley qtd. Oberst 6). Brueck restates the idea that a child who thrives on a diet high in processed foods will have a higher chance of depression and anxiety later on in life (4). With these mental health issues, the students affected will not be able to focus in school. Brueck also states that some research shows that eating a healthy diet with fruit, vegetables, fish, and whole grains can productively prevent depressive episodes (4). With these distractions gone, the students will continue to grow and can concentrate on school. As seen before there are essentially great things to eating healthy foods in moderation, there are instances where eating unhealthy and unsound food may cause repercussions.
Oberst explains this in-depth with studies showing malnourished, hungry, or children eating high-fat diets have a harder time learning the material given to them in school as well as an overall impairment in learning and memory. Oberst also connects this to vitamin deficiencies that deteriorate cognitive skills and long-term health (5). With long-term health increased the students are able to grow up to contribute more to society. Just as with academic achievements there are good things that come with eating healthy, and poor things to eating unhealthy, the same can be said about behavioral incidents. The Feingold program’s main objective is to remove artificial flavors, dyes, and preservatives (Edelking 2). Edelkind discussed that in Appleton, Wisconsin students were undisciplined, had regular weapon violation problems, and needed a police officer on duty at school at all times (11). The Feingold program is used to help with behavioral issues and hyperactivity as said by Edelking on page 18. The Feingold program is made for schools like this. Previously described as “a school for troubled teens that other schools had given up on, and it was out of control” (Edelkind 11). During the five year study program, the students’ behavior slowly turned into a positive respectful manner. This would not only help the delinquents, but their parents and teachers as well. When children become more responsive to the discipline they can become a capable and productive member of society.
Diet and Behaviour
The dean, Greg Bretthauer, saw massive changes in the students’ behavior and atmosphere during and after the diet. Edelkind noted that every year the principal needs to submit the number of student dropouts, expulsions, found with drugs or weapons, or committed suicide (11). Since the first year of the program, every number of those categories submitted by the principal LuAnn Coenen has been zero (Edelkind 11). In the work of Edelkind, she shows a first hand experience from the teacher Mary Bruyette states “I don’t have to deal with the daily discipline issues” and goes on to say “that just isn’t an issue here”. She says her biggest problem now is tardiness and parking spots (11). Helping the disruptive behaviors will keep the school and classroom a safe environment and benefit others in barring bullying from being a social aspect in the school. This goes with a study Oberst shows us in the 1980s that twelve correctional facilities removed chemical additions to the food, processed food, and diminished the amount of sugar in the diet including 8,000 children classified as juvenile delinquents (6).
Oberst also states this diet was put in place for a two year span and within that time period incidences fell greatly. His numbers display a great find, theft among the delinquents decreased by 77%, defiance fell 55%, and over activeness dropped 65% (6). When such numbers are shown, the facts must be true, and this could mean many great things with violence. With every opinion, there is an opposing view and opposing facts. With school lunches, there are arguments in every direction. People will argue that if students receive healthier foods at school, they will waste it. That is wrong and is very inaccurate, Bruck states that 15% more vegetables and fruits are being eaten while there is no increasing total of wasted food off of plates (Bruck 3-4). With healthier lunches, there are higher costs, but the cost is simply should not be enough to second think feeding students and the next generation healthier. Brueck puts a good point showing that 90% of students eat school lunch and 20% eat school breakfast (5).
Conclusion: Effect of Nutrition on Students
People may argue that a small portion of students will bring their own lunch to school, but what about the other students, but those who still eat school lunches still need to be fed to grow their minds and bodies. With all of these students in mind, the school lunches need to change from processed foods to healthy balanced meals. The academic performance is proven to be boosted for the students who ate it. The health issues with eating these processed foods are threatening too many, and cannot fight against the advantages of healthy food helping the body grow and function. The cost is not a problem when the need to keep a crisis at bay is more important. Voters and legislators need to band together to form a new and better program nationwide.