Friday, September 21, 2007
School lunches and America's diet
There's so much wrong with America's diet that it's hard to narrow it down - but one area that especially worries me is school lunch. More than 30 million children get their lunch at school. About half of them qualify for free lunches, and for those children, school food is often the only solid meal they get all day. Recognizing this, many cities have implemented free breakfasts, too, and cities including New York, Boston, Massachusetts, and Louisville, Kentucky, have extended meal programs to the summer, even when classes aren't in session.

Now, I'm heartened to see a movement growing to put healthier food on those cafeteria trays. Just a few examples I ran across in the past few months:

- Some schools in Fairfax County, Virginia, read nutrition labels in class and study nutrition as part of computer class.

- The Miami-Dade County school district in Florida offers health and nutrition classes for parents.

- Seattle, Washington, public schools solicit recipes for menu items from district parents. Each spring the district makes sure the food meets nutritional guideline and reformulates the recipes if they don't. If kids like new foods, they go on the menu in the fall. Some examples: Vietnamese sandwich (turkey ham on Vietnamese roll with carrot-radish slaw and served with tropical fruit salad), Somali spaghetti (spaghetti with carrots and potatoes), Louisiana gumbo (traditional Southern style) and phat prik gai (Thai green beans and chicken).

- We also ran across schools, all over the country where kids grow some of their own food, to drive home the message that food doesn't grown in a plastic wrapping or a freezer package.

So improving school lunches is an issue that's on the table. What's eating you when it comes to food and diet?

Watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta's latest Special Investigations Unit program "Fed Up: America's Killer Diet" Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET
I always enjoy the contributions made by Dr. Gupta, and the movement to healthier food choices for our children is certainly a good step in the direction away from the obesity epidemic. As Dr. Gupta says, It may be "hard to narrow down what's wrong with the America diet", but what's even harder is vocalizing what is wrong when you've identified the problem. The specific problem that could make a huge difference in the health of Americans is the elimination of regular soft drinks and most fast food. While this may not be practical, it is also difficult to vocalize this problem because the amount of advertising dollars from the makers of such products - i.e. McDonald's and Coca-Cola - that goes to media outlets all over the country, and world. CNN is no exception. But if every consumer eliminated soft drinks in favor of water, and fast food in favor of lean protein sources and vegetables, my prediction is that in 3 months time we would notice a drastic change for the better in the health of a significant percentage of Americans. The obvious drawback may be one of economics, but is the long-term health of our country worth it? Is your health worth it? I think so. Just some "food for thought". At The Health & Wellness Institute, we offer a lifestyle plan to "bust" these types of diet vices in order to regain a healthy, sensible diet, which leads to better health and fitness. Learn more at
I really enjoyed the piece on High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) this morning. The issue with our consumption of this man-made chemical goes even deeper than Dr. Gupta reported. I feel that this could be the next "Big Tobacco." I am not exaggerating either. The sheer amount of money that was spent politically in the 80's insuring that sugar tarrifs were erected at the same time that corn subsidies were enacted created the only place in the world where HFCS is cheaper than sugar. Tracking how money exchanged hands between lobbyists and politicians and the corn growers association and the federal fines that were levied against some of the largest corn growers in the US in 1991 for price fixing could potentially be the fodder for a movie.
The advent of HFCS in our diets coincides directly with the increase in morbid obesity and the new disease entity "Metabolic Syndrome" that had not been noted prior to the introduction of HFCS in our diets. HFCS is not processed the same way that sucrose is and has been shown to cause significant medical problems with large consumption.
The amount of money that is spent on the morbidities associated with obesity will far outstrip the costs of dealing with patients with lung cancer.
I hope that Dr. Gupta will use his national platform in a way that I have been unable to in order to expose how HFCS is contributing to possibly the biggest health care issue facing the US, obesity. I hope that he can show how the big 5 corn growers have been knowingly benefiting from our tax dollars at the public's expense.
People are dying daily from coronary artery disease, diabetes and congestive heart failure (all caused by obesity) at a much higher rate than people die from lung cancer. The tobacco industry is being held accountable as should the big 5 corn growers.
When are people going to dump the A.D.A. (american dietetic association). They are the ones who are in charge of the food service in school. You can't manage the food service facility unless you are part of them. They also breed RD's (registered dieticians)across the globe. They station a robot at every school, hospital and nursing home). The governments ADA has a legal lock on the system. Look at the issue, don't dance around it.

There is a cure for type II diabetes and heart disease whether any reductionist wants to accept that or not I don't really care.
Good story. We are POISONING our kids!! And this trend seems to affect the poor so much more. When I was on a bus the other day, I looked out and saw a terribly disturbing sight. I saw a mother in her forties standing next to her son who appeared to be between twelve and fourteen years old, and the flab on this kid was beyond belief. This boy looked like a human marshmallow!! He was pale, and had ZERO muscle tone. The skin around his ankles just hung there, like he was wearing a fake puffy skin suit. This child had the body of an out-of-shape 50 year old beer drinker. No, actually it was worse than that. And I see this all the time, kids who look like they're barely human. What's going on? It's more than being overweight--it's the other stuff, the lack of muscle tone, the paleness of these kids, that's what scares me. We had a kid like this come in and get a job with his dad, where I work, and this kid wasn't able to stand on his feet more than 45 minutes--I swear I'm not making this up--before crying in pain. By contrast, his father was in his mid-50's, had a beer belly and smoked, and could do more than this 18 year old. When you can look at a kid and tell he's poor just by the paleness of the kid's body, and the weird almost moon-faced edema in their faces, and arms and legs--that's just a strange measure of a nation. If we don't do something, and do it quickly, we're gonna grow a crop of a different kind, and the corn growers kids themselves will be paying the price for it, along with the rest of our Flab Nation.
I was fascinated yet disapointed in the piece on "Fed Up: America's Killer Diet".
How can obesity be solved with the food prices as they are.
If you had five children, have $50.00 for food this week, must choosed between what is nutritious, which is very expensive (.99cents for a banana), versus what can I buy that will fill their bellies, hands down I will choose the latter.
Foodstamps in this country is a joke. Eligibility is based on gross income, not what a family actually has after taxes and bills to spend on food.
In Japan, school lunch is a part of education, which is taken within a classroom at lunch time. They eat the same dishes and together with each homeroom teacher. The recipe is usually made by a nutritionist of each school everyday, and thus school lunch is considered to be more nutritious than meals at home. I agree with that. But most people (who experienced Japanese school lunch) feel it tastes bad. Why? I suppose that it is from not only the taste itself but also the memory that teachers FORCED us to eat up, even least favorite food.(of course, I know being less than picky about food is good for health, but...)I think we adults should provide an efficient dietary education to children, and would like every student to have a good fun meal both at school and at home.
The American Diet program was excellent.
One thing tho. Most nutrition directors at schools are trying very hard to bring good food to our kids. However, our kids come to school already addicted to junk and fast foods. So no matter how hard the schools work to keep healthy if the kids won't eat it...what can they do?
What is needed is parents to step up and change the diet at home. Teaching their children about healthy eating. Even on a 'welfare' income you can still eat fresh and healthy. It simply takes a little more effort. But it can be done. Good job keeping this in the forefront. There are good alternatives for the school lunch room. It would helpful if the news would report on these good alternatives and less on shaming schools etc. To focus in on those who are working to make things better.
Also it would be helpful if there were more instructive news programs that show easy basic ways for people to start making necessary changes in the diet. It takes effort and commitment but it absolutely can be done.
Good job CNN.
I believe that the school lunches should be left alone. Every single year i walk into school thay always have a meeting in our auditrium about what else they are taking from our lunch. Just this year they cut off out "chicken Patty" sandwitches which is what i have been eating the whole time i was in high school. I look around the hallways and i do not really see an overweight issue, and there never has. All out lunch serves now is pizza, chocolate milk, rock hard chicken tenders and nachos, sounds healthy, right. Yet again they can pull it off to charge us more money for less food. I look around and give it a good 3-5% out of a hundred in our school that is obese, but the only really "overweight" kids i see are also like 6'3" and built of rock solid muscle, but yet there still overweight. All I have seen to make our lunch so called healthier is just taking more food off of the menu. So from my experience, in my school i'd have to say that any kind of healthier menu isn't helping. I havn't seen a change in anyone in my school since elementry school. I think though one thing that has to do with it is kind of korupt, but maybe the government wants a maybe "more fit" soldier. These things we can never know.
School lunches, their fat content, their lack of vitamins/protein, and high sugar levels are horrific for student learning. If I ate a public school lunch and then attmepted to read and write at my desk, I would be asleep! Not only do the lunches affect learning but also create discipline issues for teachers who are under high stakes accountability. There are private schools and some alternative high schools that have finally realized that what we put into kids has a serious and direct impact on what we can expect out of them - whether short term in class that afternoon or long term on standardized tests. And the issue extends beyond K-12 for reasons of national health, healthcare, and later obseity, heart disease, etc. It is a national crisis when we feed children high sugar, over cooked vegetables, syrup covered fruit, and have soda and "juice" machines in the halls. Was anything in their lunch picked in the last 10 days?? Why is America getting fatter? These poor children get used to eating poorly from age five, Monday through Friday!
I am the co-founder of a group called "MOMS-I.N.C.", moms improving nutrition for children. We are a grassroots movement working to change the school lunches in this country.
MOMS-INC is dedicated to educating parents about healthy nutrition for their children, working with schools to improve their lunch programs, and ultimately getting food manufacturers to clean up their act.
At our website ( we have provided steps for parents to use to help improve their school lunch program. We also offer realistic information about healthy snack and meal ideas for children.
In educating schools and parents about healthy eating, we realized that there is a lot of confusion out there on what "healthy" really is. So we created a phrase called "The Fake 5" to help people make better nutritional choices. The Fake 5 are ingredients in most processed foods that contribute to obesity, behavioral problems and are detrimental to our health.
The Fake 5 includes trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, preservatives and dyes, and synthetic hormones and pesticides in food. We have found this to be a simple yet memorable way to direct parents away from processed, denatured foods. We emphasize the need for more natural, fresh, whole foods, and also physical activity.
We are growing in membership and volunteers and are planning to spread the word across the nation. Thank you for taking time to talk about this important and growing problem. Our children's health and futures are at terrible risk if we continue on this path of unhealthy eating. At MOMS-INC we are working hard to create positive change. I hope you will check out our website and consider linking us on your site, and joining in our efforts.

Thank You,
Robin Ingersoll
I have never understood why middle & high schools have vending machines with sodas and snacks. Even more mind bending is that the elementary schools in my county (Charles County Maryland) offer candy and food parties for good behavior.
Dr. Gupta,
I watched "Killer Diet" this evening and found most of on target and balanced. However, why was the mother of the Jamaican boy not held responsible or culpable for how much or what her son ate when they first came to the US and he gained 30 lbs in 3 months. One cannot help noting that the mother, too, was overweight. Kids do emulate their parents.
Thank you,
Phil, Chapel Hill
This epidemic affected me personally when I lost my only brother to complications of obesity-related illnesses. I decided to create aprogram to help kids overcome this battle by offering FREE afterscool one-on-one physical activity with personal trainers and nutrition education.

Students are rewarded with bikes, skates, trips, cash and other prizes for making significant improvement in increasing their physical activity and making healthier choices.

I have dedicated my life's work to making a difference and saving the life of a struggiling child. I get emails daily about what can be done, some from adults and even some from children.

More programs and support is needed if we are to reverse this trend and pandemic by 2012.

It's practically impossible to buy anything without sugar or salt. There are some sugarless things but if they have no sugar then they have fat, if no fat then sugar & salt. Even the crackers..
Why these company who make all these goodies think & take out the sugar, salt & fat all together & even though they make the usual food but make some on the side for the ones interested. Do you know there is not even a Tylenol or Maalox without sugar?? why not use diet sugar for substitute?
Dear Doctor,
The problem is not what children eat in school. That is just a part of the story. Should we rather redirect our attention and inquire the way Americans eat, dwell, socialize, and enjoy/suffer that living that they live. Unfortunately, the lost skill of a spoon and kettle will be hardly retrieved by young women (and men). What about the lost skills of preparing and cooking greens, fish, apples, and legumes. How about Fruits and vegetables? Now, who is responsible for all the vending machines, diet programs and menus that is given to children? I have not seen advertisements that make fruits and greens desirable and wanted. Again, look how children live these days. How they play, how much of their time is spent by watching TV. What is that their parents cook? What is really a diet that they are exposed to at home? Should we take a personal responsibility for our children, each parent and educator?,,,,Or, should we just blame corporations?
It's nice to see some schools finally realizing that the lunches they offer students are far from a "standard" diet, though I'm concerned with just how far a movement to make lunches healthier would get. From personal experience, current school lunches in High Schools usually offer a sort of 'a la carte' selection of everything from pizza to cake, with no sort of calorie, nutritional or allergy warning labels posted or available. Combined with the fact that schools are cracking down on open campus policies and dropping prices as well as adding 'snack bars', and you've got a recipe for disaster. In hindsight, if I had to blame my obesity on one single, sole reason, it would have to be on the $3.00 pizza slice/four breadstick combo offered at my High School; over four years, combined with excessive snacking at home, I ballooned to over three hundred pounds! I've lost about 60 of the hundred pounds I put on during High School by adjusting my diet and travel habits, though at my highest point I was consuming a large pizza or two a day, plus breadsticks and sauce.

Schools have an ethical responsibility to provide their students with a healthy, balanced lunch, or a feasible alternative to what the school provides. A good start is by getting rid of sugary drinks on campus (Regular sodas, energy drinks, etc), though I'm afraid that imposing food limits in the lunch room may lead to a parental backlash.
I think it's wonderful that we are bringing attention to this matter. My children attend a catholic school in glendale arizona and they have an "eat smart" criteria for snacks. They have to bring 100 % juice or milk for lunch. No junk food, not even for birthdays/parties, it all has to be healthy. no soda machines on campus just juice. I definitely appreciate the effort the school has gone to. My kids are aware of what junk food is and they know what healthier options are as well.
Thank you very much for your positive comments about school lunch. As the Director of a School Lunch program I know first hand how difficult it is to strike a balance between good nutrition and providing students with menu items that they want. What most folks don't realize about school lunch programs is that we are self supporting, i.e. our income is derived from our sales, we DO NOT receive funding from our school districts. We must pay all our obligations (wages and salaries, food, supplies and repairs) from our revenue. Additionally many programs must pay "indirect costs" ( employee health care premiums, utilities, and janitorial services) to the School District. This further compounds the difficulty in doing the great job that we all do!
I know that we (those in school food service) are very concerned about the health of students and are working diligently to make the changes necessary to support a healthier life style.

John Overcash
Food Service Director
Littleton Public Schools
Littleton, MA 01460
It would be really great to have a transcript of the piece on HFCS. I heard about it but was already at work and did not have the opportunity to see the entire segment. As a School Food Service Director I am always looking for health and nutrition related news pieces to put in my news letteres.

John Overcash
Food Service Director
Littleton Public Schools
Littleton, MA
Thank you for mentioning several of the many, many school districts around the country that have made significant strides to offer nutritious, balanced meals to America’s students. As a parent and school nutrition professional I know it is not uncommon today to find school lunches that feature whole grain bread, lean and low sodium meats, pizza with reduced fat cheese and whole grain crust, low fat yogurt and baked sweet potato ‘fries.’ The 30 million children who are served school lunch every school day in America get a meal that meets the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans and must be low in fat while high in key nutrients. That being said, school lunches account for about 15% of the total calories that students consume each calendar year. Schools cannot end childhood obesity alone. A survey of school foodservice directors this year found that healthful options are available in schools: a majority of schools offer fat-free or low-fat milk (97%), fresh fruits and vegetables (96%), salad bars or pre-packaged salads (88%), yogurt and yogurt drinks (81%), from-scratch baked items (63%) and vegetarian meals (52%). School nutrition professionals are challenged to offer healthful, tasty lunches to children on about a dollar per meal for food costs. Maybe it is time to increase the funds for these important programs.
I am amazed at what our children are offered at school for lunch. My daughter started school last year and I was shocked to discover one of their lunches was, Chili Cheese Fritos. I mean, how healthy is that? This year, that doesn't seem to be on the menu, however, most weeks it is the same menu containing Pizza Dunkers, Hamburgers, Sloppy Joe's, French toast sticks with ham and other such foods. At home, I expect my child to eat whole wheat bread and make healthy choices but at school these things are not reinforced. I can't afford to send lunch for my child every dayso I rely on the school lunch program and unfortunatly they are not setting the best example for food choices.
Hi Dr. Gupta and the CNN Medical Group:

It was nice to watch your special from the weekend with my children.

They really were into it when you poured the sugar in the bowl. Then the doctor showed the fat coming out of the burger. (After the show I made them lift a 5 pound bag of sugar. They were still chatting about it this AM.)

I would encourage everyone to watch with their families. (Trust me, CNN will re-run it if it is not in your TIVO. Can we say the most trusted name in re-runs! LOL!)

Dr. Gupta just confirmed what I teach at home. It is good to have another authority explain to my children who are not overweight why it is important to eat healthy and exercise.

Thanks again Dr. Gupta and the CNN Medical Department. Keep up the good work!
The problem is not as simple as school lunches. Yes, kids needs healthier school lunches but also need to be able to move more in schools. And, what about the kids who bring their lunches to schools? I live in Massachusetts and a huge amount of children, including my own, brown bag it. I write and blog about this issue a great deal. This is a home, community and school issue and we all have to ban together to help our kids eat better and move more at home and school. My latest article on how to prepare healthier school lunches can be found here:
Healthy School Lunches

Dr. Gwenn
The problem is not what kids eat for lunch at school, it's what they eat when they get home. I would bet money that if you inspected an obese family's kitchen and cupboards, you will not find bushels of apples or the refrigerator stuffed with lettuce. MOre likely there will be a plethora of candy bars, soda, pizza,etc. I do agree with some else's comment on how it is more expensive to eat healthy when you can buy an entire pizza for 5 bucks. As for food stamps, I did witness a grocery store manager refuse to accept food stamps when two young kids wre trying to purchase several pounds of bulk candy. I agreed with him 100% and felt his pain when the kids' parent berated the poor manager for doing the right thing.
WHat I think is more than pathetic, and should actually be a crime, is the people who bring multiple meals and snacks to individuals so obese that they can't get out of bed and get the food themselves.
I'm tired of hearing about how everyone is a victim and it's not their fault. People are having high risk surgeries to lose weight. Well, the surgery screws up normal anatomy so that large amounts of food (and hence calories) cannot be consumed. Guess what, there is a non-surgical cure for this, you could call it natural homeopathic medicine. You know what the secret is?
IT"S CALLED SELF-CONTROL. You don't have to but two big macs per meal. You don't need to eat twinkies instead of a piece of fruit. Hey, I would love to much on gummy bears and ice cream all day too, but guess what, I like everyone else ballooned up like a toad. With a change in eating habits alone I was able to drop 30 pounds and can maintain my weight. America needs to stop making excuses for every undesired outcome int this country. Maybe that why there are so many frivolous lawsuits in this country. My favorite is the cup of coffe between the legs lawsuit. Why should someone be rewarded with a lottery payout for being stupid?
It seems to be everyone is hating on the sugars and such in food. I am a high school student with mild hypogycima basicly low blood sugar. I am also a veg, as meat makes me sick, along with if I eat non organtic skins of fruits/veggies. Yes, I am highly gifted or something along those lines. Afrifical persevrtaves make me very ill to say the least much less artifical sweeteners and colourants, if I even get one on me I have to be home for the rest of the day. School lunches have those reactions on me. Its not right to subject someone to these measures just because they have hypersentivies related to IQ. (think its daboskis or something, not quite socialy inept enough to be autistist but lots of high iqed people are and they have sim simptoms) School lunches are low in Calories that are nutruous but its all from simple carbs and fat and meat. Just give us veggies and fruit and tofu, and no freakin persevratives and kids might accually buy them. If we are to pay 3 dollars per meal we expect something along the qualtiy of a fast food place, and chill with the milk required water is so much better, and yes I know its much more pricy due to big agrig if you have a med reason you can have salad but other wise its a hamburger and no pyshcolgical health reasons and allgires if not life threating do not count. That said schools need to have more programs for gifted kids, my hypogycima has put a pretty big dent in my gpa (went from 4.7 out of 4.0 to 3.7 out of 4.0) due to rules agaist candy in classes as it apparenly causes obsity, which well if i was not trying to gain a little weight it would be fine but I am also althelitic and naturally slim plus more imporantly I have a med reason for it. Their so afriad of if one kid has to have that to prevent fainting, the others must have it too. Its the reason we don't have levels anymore all the kids in honours (I'm taking classes a few years ahead but since I'm finally in HS my lowest class is with people in my grade and my highest is with people 2 years ahead) theyre in it cause their parents lobbied and now their flunking, though who am I to speak one test I had I got a b on cause it was right before lunch and I was barely able to walk due to our strict no sugar pollicy. Its also true type one diberitcs (people born with an issue not those who eat ot much crap in most cases) they cant have insulin as it has a needle and so is a drug. (well the kid who is one is a little crazy but not that way) Schools have total disregard for med conditions unless it fits a health polocy. If one has a docteurs orders to take a med we arn't allowed to tkae it in school lets not even get started on the number of times I've had to go to the hospital for allgire attacks (yes I am on meds several, no effect cause im allgrice to one of hte inactive ingeritants so it all cancles out)Point is schools are not healthy between the bullying, the horrid lunches, lack of gifted edu, and total disregard for med considtions (gym teachers told one of my friends with a serous heart issues from birth, sorta hard to explain to run faster cause hes tubby, hes not really its just hes not even supposed to walk fast or do anything that puts any strain on his heart, so he doesn't die so he eats very healthy but still does not have a buff look as well hes not able to work out), andthe fact they they have little to no funds really sucks for them, you can't help but feel sorry for your teachers wehn they make in a year what your college internship pays in a summer (well ok what they pay in a summer evne if one doesn't have one yet)That doesn't modavate one to do anything and well I say more funding and awarness of the fact gifted kids can get sick from simple things, plus school is so easy can cause issues emotionally. Lunches are not healthy but maybe students should have to make their own and have 1 hour to do so? stock basic ingerneants but put limits on sugar etc so if students want cake they all have to put in their alloance for it but if a student wants a salad and tofu they can have unlimited and give extra credit if students eat veyr healthy for monthts in say sci if they write a quick report on maybe like molecular foods and how they react?
I am a current high scholar. When I was a little toddler, in elementary school, I used to love to buy school lunches. Every week my mom allowed me to buy a school lunch. This tradition of buying a school lunch continued in middle. However, near the end of seventh grade and the beginning of eight grade, I started paying attention to the foods I eat and nutrition. In health class, we read the nutrition labels for school lunches. They were horrible. In high school, I have only bought a lunch when I forgot my own lunch which I packed at home. I agree with the ideas of what some schools you mentioned are doing. Growing the vegetables used in their school lunch teaches them nutrition. I feel that children should be taught at a younger age about nutrition, in order to prevent childhood obesity, diabetes, and other horrible diseases.
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
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