In an encouraging new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week, schools across the country seem to be improving in the areas of nutrition, exercise and tobacco policies. The number of school districts requiring physical education programs in elementary schools has increased since 2000. Furthermore, the percentage of school districts enacting policies forbidding the use of tobacco products on campuses and during any school-related activities increased from about 47 percent in 2000 to 68 percent in 2012.
And school nutrition is improving as well. About 43 percent of schools have now removed items such as candy and chips from vending machines, up from only 29 percent in 2006. Also, schools are now increasingly providing educational material to families regarding nutrition in school foods.
However, it seems that the school lunch program could use a little work. Guidelines issued recently by the USDA set limits on calories and salt allowed in school lunches, proposed adding more whole grains, and required schools to serve fruit and vegetables daily. However, many schools are having trouble keeping up with the costs associated with these changes, even with extra federal subsidies, and some schools are now choosing to opt out of the program. This is mainly because students have not been receptive to these changes and have started opt out campaigns of their own, choosing to bring their own lunches, or go hungry. There have also been complaints about the calorie content of lunches, which are limited to 750 to 800 calories - not enough for active high schoolers. In fact, at Wallace County High in Sharon Springs, Kansas, football player Callahan Grund and friends made a youtube video We Are Hungry, a parody of the popular song, We Are Young.
ACSH s Ariel Savransky adds, It s not surprising that the students have not been receptive to the new food options brought into their schools. You can t really expect to introduce these foods and have kids start eating them with no complaints. In order for these programs to be effective, there needs to be an educational component in addition to exposing kids more slowly to new ways of eating. Furthermore, parents should be more involved in promoting nutritious foods in the home. But this is definitely easier said than done.