Can better school lunch really beat back obesity?

Slate’s Hive is tackling childhood obesity this week. The editors have invited writers and experts to contribute thought-provoking essays and readers to submit their ideas for solutions. My essay, Why School Lunch is Not the Answer, is the first in the series.

In the piece, I argue that overhauling school food is an important task. The National School Lunch Program is the country’s second largest program for feeding hungry citizens, spending $8 billion annually on meats, grains, and produce. And the USDA estimates that many school children get as much as 50 percent of their calories at school.

But amid all the media attention to school-based obesity-prevention efforts, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that improved school nutrition alone is not nearly enough to reverse the appalling rates of childhood obesity in America, where one in three children is overweight or obese. That other 50 percent of kids’ caloric intake still needs to be addressed. The reasons school-food reform became a rallying point have more to do with political strategy than with the likelihood that school meals will fundamentally change children’s eating habits or help them lose weight. Simply put, it’s just easier to attack the way the government feeds kids than the way their parents do.

Slate readers already are submitting their ideas for what we must do to beat back childhood obesity. Add your ideas to the site. Or comment here about my piece or other suggestions.

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  1. Posted March 1, 2011 at 8:09 AM | Permalink

    Jane, I was so glad to see your entry. I made the exact same point at a nutrition strategy meeting last week here in my Houston school district. FYI, here’s my post on The Lunch Tray drawing my readers’ attention to your Slate entry: (BTW, sent you a message on FB some time ago but don’t know if you got it — I think we may have some friends in common in the magazine world.) – Bettina at The Lunch Tray

  2. Roy G. Bivens
    Posted March 17, 2011 at 2:46 AM | Permalink

    That feeding our children has become a matter of percentages and ‘attacks’, really sucks.

    When the problem gets translated into national monetary amounts and percentages, it stops looking for local solutions. Outsourcing problems like feeding our children to D.C. is part of West Virginia’s problem.

    That national politics is the only arm of change is lame.

    I liked the follow up @ Slate where a writer said to stop targeting fat children as the measure of outcomes for your national weight loss & activity political adventure.

    Some of those democrats say to “take the offensive vs. obese people”. Soda tax, charge parents of obese children with neglegence, etc.

    School “obesity prevention” programs are disease centered;
    Meaningful programs will be centered on how communities get their food, process it, and consume it. Much less easy to make a political platform, or soundcapsule out of.

  3. Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:49 AM | Permalink

    Changing the makeup of school lunch/breakfast is definitely a piece of the puzzle to fight childhood obesity. I think another crucial piece is to make healthier food options easily available, particularly in low-income areas where fast food and convenience store food rule. Community gardens, farmer’s markets, lobbying grocery stores to expand into low-income areas they traditionally shy away from, are all avenues that need to explored.

  4. Posted April 15, 2011 at 9:18 AM | Permalink

    obesity is getting way out of hand these days.

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  • About Me

    Jane BlackI am a Washington, D.C.-based food writer who covers food politics, trends and sustainability issues. My work appears in the Washington Post, (where I was a staff writer), the New York Times, Saveur, New York magazine and other publications. On this site, you will find my blog and links to my written work and my Washington Post columns.