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New Study Adds Weight to the Call for Healthier School Lunches

Flickr user bookgrl

Sometimes I wish I worked at a news station so I could come up with lead-ins like that post title all day.  That would be an awesome job. 

When it comes to school reform, some people think we have bigger fish to fry than fried fish and greasy tater tots, that talk of healthier school lunches is just a distraction from What Really Matters.

I was one of those people.  Whenever I’d hear talk about making school lunches healthier, I’d think, “If they’re that bad, parents should just pack a lunch,” or, “It’s just one meal,” or “Why should I care about food in schools when what we really need is better reading proficiency?”

I’m starting to think that while reading proficiency is key to success for individuals and for the United States as a nation, so are health and wellness.  There are many things we can change and improve in our schools and there always will be.  I think that each of us should just get involved with the area where we can do the most good and support others in their positive efforts.

So Jamie Oliver tackles school lunches and Spike Lee champions a call for more male teachers of color.  I could volunteer to teach reading at my son’s school or, if I have just a few minutes, read a book to my 18-month-old or make a great nutritious snack for Laylee to share with her second grade class.

And as for thinking that changing just school lunches can’t have that big of an effect on health in America, I was forced to think again after reading about this new study that shows a pretty strong correlation between school lunch and obesity in children.

The study, which was published in December in American Heart Journal, showed that in a sample of 1000 sixth graders in southeastern Michigan, those who ate school lunch regularly were 29% more likely to be obese than those who did not eat the school lunch.

Kids at lower income levels are more likely to eat lunch at school because of the National School Lunch Program which makes school lunches available for free or at a reduced price for those with financial difficulties.  So let’s add obesity to the list of problems struggling families are already dealing with.

Many families don’t have the time or the money to make healthful lunches for their kids each day so we need to make the lunches given in schools as nutritionally dense and appealing as possible.  And as for my thought that, “It’s just one meal,” an article I read this weekend from says children consume 30-50% of their daily calories at school so what they eat there has a real effect on their health.

Hopefully the new Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will give our schools a push in the right direction.  Now if only we could hire lunch-room monitors to make sure the kids actually eat the healthy food they’re given…

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Kathryn Thompson is a mom to two school-aged kids, a toddler, and a deceased betta fish. She can also be found at The Parenting Post, and occasionally the gym.