One in three children is obese in the United States. The factors contributing to this epidemic vary, but poor nutrition and declining levels of physical activity are most often cited. Schools are slow to join the fight against childhood obesity, and the National School Lunch Program continues to serve the same unhealthy dishes from previous decades: full of calories and low on nutritional content.
Change has taken the form of initiatives with the goal of bringing more affordable and nutritious options to students across the country. The Re-authorization of the Child Nutrition Act passed in the Senate but has been delayed in the House of Representatives until a decision is made by December 3, 2010.
So while Congress takes its recess, kids across America are taking theirs as well. However when U.S. students take recess they are having to burn off the high-calorie junk food sold in vending machines and low-nutrition school lunches served in the cafeteria.
Another initiative underway to combat the epidemic of childhood obesity is Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.
Jamie Oliver, a renowned culinary expert from Essex, England became famous through several television series such as: The Naked Chef, Jamie’s Kitchen, Jamie’s School Dinners, Jamie’s Chef, Jamie at Home, and Jamie’s Ministry of Food.
His most recent show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, focuses on educating families about food and nutrition in an effort to reverse the rate of childhood obesity. The series begins by focusing on Huntington, West Virginia, which has been referenced to as the Unhealthiest City in America, and educates 1st graders on basic nutrition. Throughout his three-month case study of the city, Jamie is met by the obstacles of naysayers and stubborn parents unwilling to make healthy decisions for their families. Jamie succeeds in making the public aware of the poor state of school lunches and nationwide eating habits in Food Revolution, but his mission has only begun.
National School Lunch Program
The National School Lunch Program has systems in place to assist over 101,000 schools with free or reduced price meals to lower-income students. Schools are required to match 30% of federal funds in the program, based on the funding they received in 1980. These matched funds have to be applied for through each state. Because of this, state contributions to the program are much smaller than the 30% requirement which leads to budget shortfalls and underfunded lunch programs.
Approximately 95% of schools participate in the program, and of the meals provided to students in 2009: 52% were free of charge & 10% were reduced. This still leaves 38% of lower-income students required to pay full price for school lunches and breakfasts.
The nutritional standards of the National School Lunch Program are only met by 30% of schools that participate.
The combination of state budget shortfalls and lack of nutritional oversight by schools has caused great concern, and is one of the items addressed in the un-passed Re-authorization of the Child Nutrition Act. Schools have trouble providing affordable lunch and breakfast to their students, as well as providing enough man-power to serve the students.
Private Sector Innovations
The private sector has begun to develop a number of products to address this problem that many schools face. Some companies have developed the solution of having “Automated Hot Food Machines”. These machines are vending machines customized to dispense hot food by using an internal microwave to heat up packaged refrigerated meals as they are purchased by each student. Students have the ability to vend meals with their student identification card on some models.
Some food service companies contracted to school districts are taking matters into their own hands by creatively making alternative dishes to popular unhealthy ones. For example, instead of the high-fat content fried tater tots, some food service companies are roasting potatoes in rosemary and garlic.
Affordable nutrition has yet to become a reality for U.S. schools.