Viewpoint: What’s for lunch? Kids suffer from unhealthy choices

By Molly Dunn
Assistant city desk editor

Seventeen percent of American children, or 12.5 million, ages 2 to 19 years are classified as obese. That means that nearly one in three children is classified as obese.

To put things into perspective, this number has nearly tripled since 1980. Although there are many factors contributing to this problem, one of the main reasons children are obese is because of what they eat at school. Children spend the majority of their childhood at school, where they eat at least one meal, sometimes two, and a snack. Being such a dominating factor in their lives, school systems ought to offer foods that nourish a child’s body rather than destroy it.

From sugary-flavored milk with sugar-coated cereal for breakfast to processed and fried foods at lunch, children in the United States are not receiving the nutrients they need to grow, develop and become healthy young adults. In most American schools, children are offered a choice between chocolate, strawberry or regular milk. With choices like these, why would a child choose regular milk? The National Dairy Council said these flavored milks have four teaspoons of added sugar in addition to the natural sugar from the lactose, giving one 8-ounce serving of flavored milk 28 grams of sugar. If a child has two servings of flavored milk, that child is consuming more sugar than he or she would from one 3-ounce can of CocaCola.

In 2005, Jamie Oliver started his Food Revolution in the UK, working to change the school food systems due to the extremely high number of malnourished and obese children. Oliver has come to America in an attempt to fix our school food systems so that American children can learn healthy eating habits to prevent diseases such as Type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

Children learn the most during the first few years of their lives. If their eating habits include a majority of foods high in sugar, fat, sodium and cholesterol, they will never choose fruits and vegetables over a chicken nugget at lunch. This is why school food systems need to educate children on healthy food options and eating habits not just in the classroom, but also at the lunch table.

Some type of action must take place to fix this problem. School systems need to re-evaluate the foods they serve to children. Rather than serving processed foods and fried fast food-type lunches, schools need to offer fresh, natural meals. Oliver’s impact on school food systems can be seen on his television show, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.” After serving the community of Huntington, W. Va., in the first season of his show, Oliver went to Los Angeles to tackle the Los Angeles Unified School District to improve the meals offered to elementary, middle and high school students.

Oliver promoted food education through serving fresh ingredients to students, teaching them how to cook with fresh ingredients and by having a garden at the school to show where food comes from. All of these efforts need to be implemented in the school systems across the country. By educating children, their food habits and choices will change, they will become much more aware of all the healthy options they have and they will live healthier lives.

No child should have to deal with Type 2 diabetes or obesity. That’s no way to live.

Molly Dunn is a junior journalism major from The Woodlands and is the Lariat’s assistant city desk editor.