Every day, all across the country, millions of kids file into their school cafeterias to buy lunch. If "school lunch" conjures up an image of ravioli, french bread, green beans, and canned peaches, think again. While the traditional cafeteria lunch is still available, most schools now also sell "a la carte" meals and snacks, and more kids than ever are making a lunch of chips sodas, and cupcakes. School districts come to rely on the income from these "Snack Shacks" and "Beaneries" to help balance their budgets. Unfortunately, many school districts -- and much of the media -- also accept without question the urban myth that only junk foods are profitable. Although parents and teachers may have concerns about poor nutrition, in a time of shrinking funding for schools, it is hard to insist that physical health should trump fiscal health. Most schools are just too afraid of losing money to stop selling the junk kids love to buy. Schools which have experimented with healthier foods, however, have found that sales go up, not down.
In this country last year, there were three times as many overweight adolescents as in 1980. Type-2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and high cholesterol are increasing among youth. In response, school districts such as Oakland and Los Angeles have banned the sale of sodas in their schools.
Consumption of soda has been linked to broken bones, osteoporosis, obesity, disbetes, kidney stones, nervousness, insomnia, and attention deficit disorder. The caffeine in most sodas interferes with kids' ability to concentrate and stay on task, and the sugar contributes to diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay.
The risks are even greater for girls. A recent study by a Harvard School of Public Health professor found that physically active teenage girls were five times more likely to suffer from broken bones if they were cola-drinkers than girls who did not drink carbonated beverages. The phosphoric acid in cola is believed to interfere with calcium absorption. In addition, girls who drink soda instead of milk are denying their body the calcium it needs to build strong bones, and are likely to suffer from brittle or fragile bones later in life.
Other foods commonly for sale in cafeterias feature high levels of salt and fat. For example, more than half of the weight of a bag of regular (fried) chips comes from oil, which is fat. Chicken wings and french fries are other examples of high salt, high fat foods. Excessive fat intake has been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer. Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure and can cause the body to excrete other needed minerals, like calcium. Portion size can be a problem, too. Choices like pizza and hamburgers which might be acceptable in normal portions are often sold in giant portions big enough for two or more servings.
'The school system is where you build brand loyalty.' -- John Alm, president and chief operating officer, Coca-Cola Enterprises, quoted in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, April 6, 2003
How San Francisco Unified School District improved its school food
Making the change
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Page last updated Monday November 02, 2009