The Major Role of School Meals in Combating Childhood Obesity in America

Childhood obesity is a nationwide epidemic. In 2014, the Center for Disease Control said 17% of all children and adolescents are obese. That accurately breaks down to 8.9% of 2- to 5 year-olds, 17.5% of 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.5% of 12- to 19-year-olds are obese. There are many factors that play a large role in these statistics. School meals are just one of the major concepts to consider when trying to combat childhood obesity. The meal options children have access to at school, when they eat meals, how often they eat, and amount of time children are given to eat all play a vital role in controlling weight.

Per the USDA (2012), school lunches are required to offer fruits, vegetables, fat-free milk, and low sodium and trans-fat option. This does not mean that children are given a fruit or vegetable with their entrée. It just means that the school must have it available for the student to choose. If fruits were put on their trays, then the children may be more likely to eat them.

In daycares, they are required to offer fruits and vegetables with each meal. Meaning the fruits and vegetables must be prepped, prepared, and available for the children. In my personal experience, as a daycare worker, whenever we offer the fruits and vegetables to the children they turn it down. However, when we put it on their plates along with their meal they usually eat them without hesitation.

An interview with a sophomore, Desi (2017), at Belleville East Township High School will give evidence supporting the low quality of a standard school lunch.

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Desi described the meals as “slop” and “mush”. She said they did not have much flavor and did not look appealing. Are children going to eat a meal that does not even look good? Desi continued by saying the school offered other options such as pizza and nachos, but those were more expensive options. These options were not covered by the low-income food program. She said they have baskets of fruit available for students, but each student was only allowed one piece and it was, according to Desi, it was fifty cents to buy another piece. From this interview, I concluded that school lunches are not appealing unless students buy the upgraded option and healthy options are limited. Another topic Desi discussed during the interview was the time she eats lunch. Desi stated that at her school there are six thirty minute lunches. The first starts at ten-thirty in the morning and that last starts at one in the afternoon. Desi is currently in the ten-thirty time slot. She discussed how she eats breakfast at seven-thirty then must be in her first class by eight thirty. By ten-thirty she is hungry, but more for a snack not a meal. By the afternoon, she is hungry again and still has the rest of her school day and her travel home before she can get a healthy snack. The majority of a student’s day, in grade K-12, is spent at school, or an afterschool program. The only options the school has for snacks are through vending machines or the school store. These consist of chips and candy. If a child does not eat a healthy balanced diet, they are more likely to be overweight.

A normal American eating schedule is breakfast, lunch, then dinner. Usually these are large meals about four to five hours apart. According to “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” (2005), it is most beneficial to eat multiple small meals every few hours rather than three large meals per day. When children are in school they usually only get one meal. Some students eat two meals, breakfast and lunch, at school. Research shows that a diet consisting of 5-6 small meals, spread evenly throughout the day, helps maintain a healthy weight, increase metabolism, and increase energy. This is all beneficial when combatting obesity. Providing healthy snack options periodically throughout the day, especially for those with very early and late lunches, would be beneficial. Schools could have a snack bar open to students throughout the day. This could consist of fruit, vegetables, yogurt, or granola bars. The school could regulate snacks by scanning school IDs when students pick up snacks.

Finally, the time children are given for meals is typically very short. Most schools give the students thirty minutes for lunch. This means they must get to the cafeteria, go through the lunch line, pay for their food, find a table, eat, clean up, go to the restroom, and get to their next destination within thirty minutes. Usually, a person requires fifteen to twenty minutes just to eat a meal. There is a correlation between eating quickly and weight gain. The theory is that Leptin, the hormone released by the stomach signaling the brain of fullness, does not have adequate time to respond before overeating. Therefore, saying that the faster you eat, the more likely you are to overeat. Lack of nutrition, poor timing of meals, and lack of time to eat are all contributing factors to obesity that are directly linked to school meal programs. Schools need to give out healthy options, allow students more time to eat, and offer healthy snack to students throughout the day. These techniques may be difficult to implement, but the benefits could change lives.

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The Major Role of School Meals in Combating Childhood Obesity in America. (2021, Dec 25). Retrieved from

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