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Don't Just Sugar Coat It

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Don't Just Sugar Coat it!

An article published in Health Source - Consumer Edition pointed out, "In a perfect world kids would eat all their fresh and raw vegetables, turn their nose up to sugary drinks and desserts and spend all their free time in a physical activity conductive to building healthy bodies and strong character." (Miller, 2003, p.1) However, this isn't a perfect world, and children do not choose vegetables over sugary treats. But what is even more disturbing, are the bad eating habits that are turning into a national wide concern; obesity. "Childhood obesity is the fastest growing problem and the precursor to a lifetime of more serious physical and emotional problems, problems that are certainly reversible, if not preventable, with proper diet and exercise." (Miller, 2003, p.1) Most children are not mature enough to handle the decision to choose between healthy foods over the junk food offered, so it is important to limit them to the best food possible. School lunches are playing a large part of this growing problem.

Parents can only limit their child's food intake at home, but what about where they spend eight hours a day, and consume a very large portion of food; school? You would think that a school spends time teaching our children how to be healthy, and the consequences of being obese, however they don't seem to act on their 'teachings'. According to the "American Family Physician" (1998), "The average student, from the first day of first grade until the last day of high school, spends a total of 1,000 hours in the cafeteria." (p.417) This is a great amount of time that child is away from their parents influence and has the freedom to choose what they want to eat. When children choose to eat unhealthy lunches it is usually in part because they don't know any better, and partially because the healthy alternatives aren't very appealing or always available. By doing this children aren't looking at the long term effects of obesity, which leads not only to psychological issues, but also serious health consequences. Most obese youngsters become obese adults. In a study it was noted "Many adults can trace their excess weight to faulty nutrition and physical activity patterns, established during childhood." (Smith, 1999, p. X) Children don't choose to be obese; however it is their unawareness that leads them there. It's important that we lead our children in the right direction, by not offering the tempting treats, that adults have willpower against, however many children do not.

It is easy to blame school lunches, so it's important to actually look at the typical lunches offered. Typical school lunch programs incorporate pizzas, cheese burgers, chicken fingers and nachos with ice-cream, chips, and candied treats, while washing them down with some artificially colored and sweetened sport drink or sodas. Most parents and children don't realize that these sugary drinks suppress the immune system and deplete calcium levels. When the lunch period is over, "we then send dozens of hyperactive, attention deficient and malnourished children back into a contained room with one teacher." (Miller, 2003, p.1) Apparently with this being a huge problem, why do parents, teachers, school administrators and the public allow this to continue to happen and destroy our children? The most common response from school boards and administrators is - money. According to Michael Jacobson (2003), "Schools say they need to sell junk food to raise money for everything from books to sports equipment. But is it smart to fund one percent or so of our schools' budget at the expense of our children's health?" (p.1) It is clear that administration and teachers don't seem to be concerned of how unhealthy many cafeteria lunches really are, and even if they are, they have alternatives to these lunches. Faculty members have the option of leaving to get lunch, or ordering in, so lunch time isn't usually problem for them. Unfortunately schools aren't looking into the long term effects, or how important it is for children to have healthy lunches; not only for the health of the child, but healthy foods are what increase the child's awareness and ability to do their best. When schools are conducting standardized tests, they request that the students eat a good meal beforehand, which includes breakfast and lunch, to get them moving and focused. Sugar and candy isn't what is expected for these meals. A healthy meal for "brain food" is what they want students to have, but yet they don't offer that at lunch.

By schools providing the unhealthy lunches, it's easy to see the correlation between school lunches and childhood obesity. Studies show "Over the last 20 years, obesity rates have doubled in children and tripled in teens." (Jacobson, 2003, p.1) The main reason could be because "40 percent of elementary schools, 75 percent of middle schools, and almost all high schools have vending machines or a store, canteen, or snack bar." (Miller, 2003, p.1) Whenever you think of a typical snack bar or vending machine, do you think of fresh fruit, or a Snickers bar and a Pepsi? I know that is what I remember about the snack bars at my school. It is becoming apparent that children view lunch room foods the same way.

The rising availability of food is another reason children are eating more. However, although they are eating more, it's not fruit or a healthy salad, the increase is in soda and snacks. "Soft-drink consumption by children aged 6 to 18 increased 40 percent between 1989 and 1996. In one recent study, children who drank more soft drinks consumed more calories and were likely to become obese." (Jacobson, 2003, p.1) The 'energy' that is coming from these drinks or even the fruit juices, from the vending machines, are filled with sugar. The energy surge and the taste of the sugar is what continues to draw children back. With nothing there to stop children



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