Healthier school lunches for American children

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There is an epidemic of obesity in America. Every state in the USA has at least 22% adult obesity and American children are not exempt from this public health issue. Utah has the lowest rate of childhood obesity with 19.2% of children age 10-17 overweight or obese in 2016. Children form their habits by the age of 9, so after that age, it becomes difficult to change behavior. In school, children are exposed to unhealthy foods and junk food vending machines. Even if parents help their children understand how to eat well, unless they pack their lunch (which is something I personally recommend), they will still be eating junk at least once per day for 175-182 days each year.

Here's the problem: the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has guidelines in place about balanced meals in schools, but they are not good enough nor are they being enforced. In 2011, congress stated that pizza sauce counts as a vegetable. Also thanks to the colossal misstep by congress, some schools serve french fries every day since the 2011 bill does not keep them from over-serving starchy vegetables. (To read more about the bill, click here.)

Aside from the bad food choices, children do not have enough time to eat in school. The USDA states that schools should ensure that every child has enough time to eat and that lunch should be at any time from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm. However, they do not give any specific guidelines for the length of time that children should have to eat. The typical school lunch lasts for 30 minutes. In theory, that's plenty of time, but if you account for the time taken to walk to lunch, stand in the typically long lunch line, and find a seat, kids really only have about 15 minutes to eat. Considering that it takes 20 minutes on average for people to feel full, a 30 minute lunch period is not long enough.

To give you a personal story about why this issue matters to me, I'll tell you about my experience at school. For one, I almost never finished my lunch before the lunch period ended. I always either took the rest of my lunch to class, or wastefully threw it away. If I did happen to finish my lunch and I wasn't quite full, I got something from the vending machine. The healthiest food item that you can get from my school's vending machines are pretzels. See the problem? Pretzels aren't healthy. So really the only healthy thing that is offered in vending machines is water. In my health class in high school, an obese teacher told me that obesity was bad and would lead to disease, right before she guzzled a Coke. My point is, learning how to eat well in school is impossible with the current meal standards and hypocritical role models. Children learn habits in adolescence and 180 out of 365 days each year are spent in school, so doesn't it make sense that schools should prioritize the health of their students? A healthy mind is influenced by a healthy body, and healthy bodies depend on healthy foods.

So who can help resolve this issue?

If you would like to contact your FNS regional representative, click here. To contact the national FNS office, click here. To contact the Department of Education representative in your area, click here and select your state to see local contact information. Please share this petition so that we can try to make a difference together!



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