School Lunch: From Malnutrition to Obesity in 50 Years

How times have changed in America’s public schools.  An editorial in today’s New York Times gives us an historic perspective of the federal school lunch program since its inception nearly a half century ago.  The program was initially implemented to fight malnutrition, but now faces the opposite challenge of fighting obesity.

Federal rules that govern the sales of these harmful (junk) foods at schools are limited in scope and have not been updated for nearly 30 years. Until new regulations are written, children who are served healthy meals in the school cafeteria will continue to buy candy bars, sugary drinks and high sodium snacks elsewhere in school.

Fortunately, Congress seems to be waking up to this problem. A bill introduced by Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, would update nutritional standards and give the Department of Agriculture broader authority to promulgate new regulations for food sold in schools that accept federal food subsidies. Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, has said that he will introduce similar legislation in the Senate.

Let’s hope so for our children’s sake, as the stakes are increasingly high.

Over the last four decades, the obesity rates for adolescents have tripled.

While they’re at it, perhaps they can begin addressing the problem of school kitchens not having the equipment and/or funding necessary to prepare meals from scratch, preferably utilizing local and sustainable foods.  These functional kitchens can then provide the added benefit of getting students engaged in the cooking process.


6 responses to “School Lunch: From Malnutrition to Obesity in 50 Years

  1. And then we wonder about ADD and discipline problems. Feeding kids tater tots and candy for lunch is criminal!

  2. I just stumbled onto your website from food renegade, which I enjoy reading. I have just added you to my favorites, as I will be reading more. Loved the article about the farmers markets and then found this one….awesome! As a teacher for 25 years, I found it disgusting what the children were being fed. Another problem in the schools is the reduction of recess for instructional time., which also leads to obesity. They feed them junk, take away their time to play, and then expect them to be awake and eager to learn. Something has got to change!

    • Peg: I am very happy that you found the Every Kitchen Table blog, but even more so that you add your thoughts. As an educator your first-hand account is invaluable in helping others understand the problems our children AND teachers face. I look forward to more of your insights in the future.

      Michelle: It’s interesting how your comment and Peg’s tie together. As a big fan of health heads, hearts and hands, our children must have balance to be balanced, and we are doing a pretty poor job given the current situation in today’s public schools. And to be clear, I don’t view those problems resulting from teachers and administrators, it is more about funding and how that money can be used.

  3. Very interesting, I just found an article (which I’m posting about tomorrow) that hospitals are finally starting to serve fresh, organic foods…it’s about time that we provide good food to those who are in need of it!

  4. Noticed something amazing at my first grader’s school – none of the cafeteria workers wear gloves. Why? Turns out none of them ever actually touch any food. Everything comes pre-packaged in cellophane, which the kids unwrap (apparently they learned how to do this on airplane rides?).

    Even if the workers touched what was in the cellophane, they’d be hard-pressed to call it food. The definition of food safety, which seems these days to mean “salmonella-free” (or something like that) needs to be expanded to include real foods with real nutrition.

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