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A Food Fight of Epic Proportions

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Cassie Rowe, MS, RD, LD/N

Earlier this month a new “rule” was proposed that will prohibit the sales of any unhealthy snacks at any school that receives government funding (i.e., schools who participate in the National School Lunch Program). There's some debate about the outcome of this regulation and when and if it’s implemented (that’s up to you, since the general public has time to comment). Depending on the angle with which you view this legislation, you may or may not be for it. This might just be a food fight for the record books!

The new rules would replace less nutrient-dense foods with more nutrient-dense foods in the a la carte line (nutrient-dense means that there are lots of nutritious substances in proportion to the number of Calories in that food). For example, foods that will be available will be things like baked potato chips instead of fried and granola instead of candy. Sodas will only be available in high school and only if they are the diet versions.

On one hand, you have the “health” stance. Proponents of the legislation see it as a means of addressing childhood obesity and providing wholesome foods to America’s students. They take solace in the fact that there are more fruits, veggies, and whole grains; and fewer sugary and fatty food options. After all, that’s the epitome of our definition of “healthy”, right?

On the other hand, there are those against the regulations on the grounds that the rules are pretty strict. For example, the suggested grain limit would prevent having a daily sandwich option (2 slices of bread per day is too much, according to the legislation). Other limited nutrients include protein, which means having a cheeseburger won’t happen. You can have cheese, or a burger, but not both. Rules like these have already been applied to main lunch courses, but with this new rule the "extras" that school lunchrooms sell will be affected. A major concern here is that the tight limits on Calories combined with students’ lack of desire for the food being served will result in hungry students who can’t focus in class. Wallace County High School students are concerned about sports performance, too, related to the changes that have already taken place. Check out their YouTube video, it’s pretty entertaining!

Even as a dietitian, I have my doubts about this rule. First, people are aversive to being told what to do. Next, dietary restriction causes overeating of the restricted food later. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who is on a “diet” what it is that they crave most—I guarantee it’s the foods that are being restricted. This is also true in the general sense of the word “food”. If students don’t want to eat what is provided, can no longer get other desirable food options on the a la carte line, and go without, their minds will be preoccupied with thoughts of food rather than multiplication tables. Calories, whether they come from fat, protein, or carbohydrate, provide energy—the fuel that, for students, is needed to be able to focus and learn in class.

Yes: fruits, vegetables and whole grains are nutritious and quite delicious, but not every student is willing to eat them. According to those who support the legislation, the solution to picky eating is providing a packed lunch… but what about the kids who can’t afford that? Let’s keep in mind that this is the population that the National School Lunch Program serves. On top of that, it’s difficult to believe that overly restrictive guidelines will have much effect on this “problem” of childhood obesity. The causes of obesity are multifactorial—each child is different and has different needs. Food is not necessarily the enemy here. Lastly, isn’t it an important life skill—for children and adolescents to learn how to make their own food choices—with the guiding voices of their parents in the background?

This blog post serves as a thought-generator. What do you think? Take a couple minutes to join Jeatwell.com (click register, at the bottom of this post), comment on this post, and let me know! If you have children, or you know of children who receive school breakfasts and/or lunches, I implore you to comment on the legislation (whether for, or against it) and be heard! The deadline for legislation comments is: April 9, 2013. Click here to get to the comment page. If you want to read the 39 page rule summary, we can help there, too! Finally, check out some of our other “food legislation” blogs regarding salt and soda!

With regards to writing a

With regards to writing a personal statement, if schools are expected to respond to the current epidemic of childhood obesity by improving the school food environment, and taxpayers are reluctant simply to provide more resources, then there is some merit in considering measures to enhance the relative competitive position of healthy meals served through the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.

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