The American educational system exists to guide youth in the beginning of their lives and to teach them what they need to know to properly function in society. In order to live long and productive lives, we need to eat a healthy and nutritious diet. Can it not then be assumed that schools should be educating youth on proper eating habits? However, when you enter a school cafeteria, you will find this is often not the case. Pizza, pudding, and sugar-loaded fruit juices seem to be the primary sources of food. We need to change the way the lunch program works, but instead of trying for healthier, fresher choices, some people are aiming to bring fast food chains into the school cafeteria.
Every day, one in three U.S. children eats at a fast food restaurant (Holguin). Fast food is not a healthy meal choice; it is overabundant in fat and sodium and low in nutritional value. Introducing fast food chains into public schools would only give the students the impression that this type of diet is acceptable. Currently, 23.4 billion children aged two to nineteen are overweight and obese.(“Overweight and Obesity Statistics” AHA). As stated in a report by the U.S. Surgeon General, “Obese youth are more likely than youth of normal weight to become overweight or obese adults, and therefore more at risk for associated adult health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.”
Being overweight can adversely affect many areas of a child’s life, from their ability to do physically demanding activities to their ability to concentrate in the classroom. Students who are overweight were found to be more irritable, have lower energy levels, and have weaker immune systems than children of healthy weight. (CDC, MMWR ) Placing fast food chains in the lunch room will affect every aspect of the school, especially the classroom. According to a review of research by the Hunt Institute, it is a reasonable assumption that childhood obesity indirectly affects academic outcomes and directly affects self esteem. (2) With students that cannot concentrate and feel bad about themselves, a teacher’s job becomes increasingly difficult.
In her essay “What’s for Lunch? Fast Food in the Public Schools”, Cheryl Sateri argues that although fast food is not the healthiest of choices, it is better than what is currently being served in school cafeterias. Perhaps this is true, however if we are instigating changes in the way the school lunch system is run we should try for something more than slightly better. Growing students need a nutritious, healthy diet that will provide them with the nutrients and vitamins necessary to live healthy lives. This goal cannot be reached through the food served in fast food chains. Students need vegetables and fruit, not burgers and fries. In this situation, taking the easy road could mean imminent health problems for America’s next generation of leaders.
Sateri argues that improving food in the cafeteria would be too expensive. However, this does not have to be the case. Jamie Oliver, of Jamie’s Food Revolution and host of several popular cooking shows, is working toward improving school food and introducing healthy choices into the cafeteria. He has developed several recipes lunch workers can prepare from scratch with fresh ingredients and still meet nutritional standards at a school budget. Foods with long storage life can be bought in bulk at low prices and co-ops with farmers can be created. Healthy does not have to mean expensive.
Preventing obesity is a serious subject that needs to be handled with the utmost care, particularly in the school cafeteria, where young students are easily influenced. The possible consequences of allowing fast food chains to become permanent fixtures in the school cafeteria are too high to risk. Our nation’s youth are already struggling with weight issues; this movement will only add fuel to the fire that is obesity. There are other options, perhaps they are not as easy to put into action, but they are there and we need to initiate them. I hope that Jamie’s Food Revolution and other similar groups can encourage schools to consider rising to a new standard of school lunch, providing a healthy and nutritious diet that will help young students thrive.
“Guidelines for school health programs to promote lifelong healthy eating.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MMWR 1996;45(No. RR-9): .
“Overweight and Obesity Statistics”. American Heart Association http://americanheart.org/downloadable/heart/1236358025411OVRWGHT.pdf
Holguin, Jaime. “Fast Food Linked to Child Obesity.” Chicago: Jan. 5, 2003
U.S. Surgeon General. “Overweight and Obesity: Health Consequences.” Rockville: MD; 2001.http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/obesity/calltoaction/fact_consequence s.htm
Oliver, Jamie. “Jamie’s Food Revolution.”
“What Causes Overweight and Obesity.” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute” http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/obe/obe_causes.html
“Childhood Obesity and Academic Outcomes.” The Hunt Institute. Durham, NC: December 2008.