School Lunches and Childhood Obesity: Is There a Link and What Can be Done to Combat the Problem?

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Research studies carried out in the summer of 2010, funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, show a link between school lunches and childhood obesity. Children who regularly eat school lunches that are part of the government’s National School Lunch Program are more likely to become overweight, according to this study. The study cited the fact that there was a dramatic increase in the frequency of childhood obesity based on data collected from the 1970s in comparison to today.

Obesity Among Our Children

The study compared data found in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which was conducted between 1971 and 1974, and again from 2003 to 2004. The data shows that there was a significant increase in childhood obesity in recent times when compared to past decades. There was a 5 percent increase in obesity of preschool kids, to 13.9 percent. On the other hand, school-aged children 6 to 11 years old had a 4 percent increase in their obesity rate, to 18.8 percent. Children 12-19 years old had a 6.1 percent increase in obesity, to 17.4 percent.

We know that America’s children are becoming overweight as time goes on, but the question remains why?

The Problem in Our Schools

The National Student Lunch Program serves 30 million children in 80,000 schools across the nation and nearly 1 out of 3 children aged 2 to 19 are overweight or obese. The problem seems to be in our schools. Based on the United States Department of Agriculture’s study, school breakfasts do not seem to perpetuate the problem, but school lunches and childhood obesity seem to have a strong correlation. Many officials cite the fact that school lunches are not strongly regulated or in full compliance with federal guidelines. Only about six percent of school lunch programs in our nation meet the requirements set by the United States Department of Agriculture. About 80 percent of schools fail to meet requirements that require them to keep fat content below 30 percent of the total caloric content of a meal.

The Fight Against Childhood Obesity

Experts say that what we are seeing is a childhood obesity epidemic among our children. Luckily, there are people in power that will not let the future of our children be doomed without a fight. In 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture and First Lady Michelle Obama teamed up to take on the challenge of fighting this epidermic. The First Lady, launched the Lets Move! campaign with the intention of reducing childhood obesity so that children born today will grow up to be adults with a healthy weight later in life. One of the tenets of the campaign is to provide healthier food in schools, dissolving the link between school lunches and childhood obesity.