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School Food Advocacy by the NumbersAugust 22, 2011
• This generation of children will be the first in the nation’s history to live shorter lives than those of their parents. (Centers for Disease Control)
TWO FRIGHTENING FACTS
• One third of American children are overweight or obese and at risk of developing cardiovascular disease. One quarter of children age five to ten have elevated blood cholesterol or high blood pressure; both are early warning signs of heart disease.
• Type 2 (“adult-onset”) diabetes rates among children are increasing annually. The CDC reports that one in three children born in 2000 (30 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls) will develop type 2 diabetes.
THREE PIECES OF GOOD NEWS
• There are now Farm to School programs in all 50 states.
• The USDA has proposed new Federal Standards for all food served in schools.
• Edible school gardens are popping up in urban, suburban and rural school districts all over the US.
FOUR TOOLS FOR ADVOCATES
• LUNCH WARS: How to Start a School Food Revolution and Win the Battle for Our Children’s Health. The book’s title says it all. Everything you need to know to get started in your community.
• TWO ANGRY MOMS: Fighting for the Health of America’s Kids – a movie to get the conversation about school food started in your district. Available in 60-minute conference edition, 86-minute feature edition or 60-minute Spanish language version.
•www.angrymoms.org. A website with resources you can download and share with school administrators and fellow advocates.
•www.angrymoms.groupsite.com. An online networking community where you can find and connect with others in your district and around the country.
FIVE TIPS FOR PACKING SCHOOL LUNCH
• Involve the kids in planning, shopping, preparing. There’s not always time to get the kids to participate in every aspect of packing a lunch, but they will be more interested in eating the lunch you pack if they had some input.
• Make it fun. A lunch that is visually engaging and easy to eat has a better chance of being consumed. Use cute cookie cutters for shaping sandwiches, hard cheese or melon chunks. Ingredients that are naturally colorful are also naturally healthy. Try out a bento style lunch box with little boxes separating the different components of the meal, or a tiffen-style stacking system. Add an easy-to-grab snack for a mid-morning break or bus ride home.
• Keep it safe. Keep hot foods warm in a wide-mouth thermos. Keep cold food cool with an ice pack in a well-insulated bag or lunchbox. Popular dinners make great leftovers (roast chicken, ‘fried’ brown rice with veggies); just make sure they are not in the danger zone when eaten (between 41 and 140 degrees F).
•Vary the menu seasonally. Shop at a farm stand or farmer’s market for the freshest ingredients, which will have the highest vitamin content. Seasonal variety also means you won’t get in a rut of repetitious meals.
•Use organic ingredients when possible. As with local ingredients, organic foods often taste better because they have higher concentrations of minerals and beneficial micronutrients. And they have lower GMO content, herbicide and pesticide residues (see Scary Six).
SIX SCARY THINGS FOUND IN SCHOOL MEALS
• Residues: Pesticides, Herbicides, Hormones and Antibiotics are used in conventional food production. Our food supply is only minimally tested for these residues and the burden of proof of harm must be established before any chemical may be regulated in the US.
• Flavorings: MSG, Autolyzed yeast extract, hydrolyzed protein are just a few of the substances added to processed foods to cover up the cardboard taste. Small amounts of these substances may indeed be safe for kids, but children subsisting on a diet mainly of processed foods are ingesting more than a bit of these flavor enhancers. Parents of children with allergies or food sensitivities must be especially vigilant because there are many names for these compounds and they are used in everything from chicken products to veggie sticks to ice cream.
• Additives: Preservatives and artificial colorings, like flavorings, are ubiquitous. In a UK study, the combination of sodium benzoate (a common food preservative) and food coloring in a fruit drink was found to cause symptoms of hyperactivity in normally calm children.
• Hydrogenated Oils: Also known as transfats and interesterified oils, these manufactured fats are solid at room temperature, and are slow to go rancid, making them great for shelf life in the grocery store. Those same qualities make it difficult for a child’s digestive system to break them down and use them as nutrition, so they seem to end up clogging arteries instead. However, small amounts of naturally occurring transfats and essential fatty acids from plants and pasture raised animals are necessary for proper brain and nervous system development.
• Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners: The average American child eats anywhere from 30 to 156 pounds of sugar per year, (depending on which statistics you believe) and the sugar content of school meals is still unregulated. Sugar tastes yummy but the empty calories not only substitute for necessary nutrients, they actually cause mineral loss from bone and brain as the body uses those elements to break down the sugar. Studies show that sugar is more addictive than cocaine. Artificial sweeteners, touted as dietetic, actually cause consumers to crave more and more sweetness, and without the release of insulin (produced to metabolize real sugar), the craving is never satisfied. Many healthy-sounding items like Nutrigrain Bars, Fruit Snacks, low-fat yogurt and sports drinks found in the school cafeteria contain these ingredients as well as others on this list.
• Genetically Engineered Foods (aka GE, GM or GMOs): Our kids are being used as guinea pigs for this category. Banned in most European school meals, GMOs are found in about 90% of school cafeteria food items. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) reports that “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. The AAEM is asking physicians to advise patients to avoid GM foods.
SEVEN THINGS YOU CAN DO
• Build Your Food IQ at Home: Learn which foods are right for your family – not all foods are good for everyone! Cook With Your Kids. Read books, takes classes, watch cooking shows. Try new things, test recipes. Grow your own; get your kids connected to their food.
• Have Lunch With Your Child in the School Cafeteria: Understand the strengths and weaknesses of your school’s lunch program by experiencing the food your kids are taking in at school every day. Ask to see ingredient lists for all the food on the menu.
• Join a Committee or Coalition: Get involved with the nutrition committee in your school or a wellness committee in your district. Create one if none exist. Survey Your District to find out how many other parents, students, teachers and staff share your concerns about school food. Write or update a District Wellness Policy that specifies your needs.
• Advertise: Some kids are afraid of fresh food. So when positive changes are made in your district, work with sports teams and student leaders to get “buy-in” from your entire community. It’s not healthy if the kids don’t eat it!
• Teach Food: Create and participate in school gardening and cooking classes that produce real food. Hold “tastings.” Make it fun and help kids learn that it’s cool to eat good food. Teach media literacy so kids learn how they are targeted by junk food advertisers.
• Remember it’s not Just About What’s in the Food: You can advocate for a better school food environment in many ways. Does the school cafeteria recycle paper and cardboard waste, or reuse lunch trays? As much as 50% of school food ends up in the trash. Is leftover food composted? Do kids have enough time and space to eat their meals? What’s the noise level like in the cafeteria? Is anyone helping the students make good choices? Does staff have enough training and equipment to cook from scratch?
• Join the national movement for better food in schools: Add your name to our email list to receive our low-volume newsletter and help grow our numbers from 2 to 2 MILLION ANGRY MOMS. Sign up at www.angrymoms.org.
EIGHT REASONS TO GET INVOLVED
• Our government’s own studies have shown that American schools are flunking lunch. A 2007 School Nutrition Dietary Assessment concluded that the vast majority of schools in America exceed USDA guidelines for the quantities of saturated fat, total fat and sodium in school meals.
• The average dollar amount allotted for food cost per school lunch nationwide is barely $1, and 25 cents of that is spent on milk. It’s easy to see why many cafeterias wind up offering energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods just to make the required calorie count.
• The commodity beef and poultry provided free to schools from the USDA is held to lower standards than the standards used in fast-food chains like McDonald’s. In the past decade, the USDA paid $145 million for pet-food grade “spent-hen meat” that went into the school meals program. In 2008, 37 million pounds of contaminated beef was consumed by school children before a recall reached the school districts.
• No free water. Even for those kids eligible for free lunch, many schools don’t provide access to clean drinking water throughout the school day. Water fountains are in disrepair and schools now rely on the income from selling bottled water. 40 percent of respondents to a recent California study indicated that none of the school cafeterias in their district provided students with access to free drinking water during school meals. New federal regulations enacted for the 2011/2012 school year require that free drinking water be made available during school meals.
• The kids who DON’T buy lunch at school are healthier—and they perform better academically: A 2008 study found that children who bought lunch at school were at an increased risk for being overweight. The study also found that students with a higher consumption of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fruits and vegetables performed better on a standardized literacy assessment, independent of socioeconomic factors. (Science Daily, Mar. 22, 2008).
• The average child will eat 3,000 school lunches between kindergarten and 12th grade. Serving delicious, nutritious, wholesome food could have an enormous impact on our children’s health — and their futures: A 2008 study of 1349 students in grades 4 through 6 from 10 schools in a US city with a high proportion of children eligible for free and reduced-priced school meals participated in a multi-component School Nutrition Policy Initiative. Significantly fewer children in the intervention schools (7.5%) than in the control schools (14.9%) became overweight after 2 years.
• The US per-capita cost of health care for 2002 was approximately $13,500 for people with diabetes, while it was $2560 for those without diabetes.
• It’s not just about obesity and type 2 diabetes. One in four children take prescription medication daily for chronic illness. Rates of asthma, ADHD, cancer, anxiety and other behavioral disorders are rising among children.
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