Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds

By Salvato, Nancy | The World and I, October 2006 | Go to article overview

Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds


Salvato, Nancy, The World and I


Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act

In 2004, the "Child Nutrition and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) Reauthorization Act" was passed to "address the growing obesity epidemic and promote healthy eating and physical activity through changes in school environments." (1) Although schools are locally controlled, any LEA, or local education agency which benefits from federal school meal programs must develop a school wellness plan for the 2006-2007 school year.

While any school's agenda and mission should reflect the values and specific needs of those in the local communities served, the federal government is well within its bounds to promote nutrition and exercise in schools that receive federal funding, as the maintenance of a country in which the people are sovereign depends upon a healthy, high-functioning society.

National School Lunch Program

The need for the schools to step up to this task is evident due to fact that the National School Lunch program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (initially implemented in 1947 to battle undernourishment), has devolved into processed and fast food meals contributing to one out of every six kids being overweight. (2) As a matter of fact, the USDA's Schools/Child Nutrition (CN) Commodity Programs created a market for unwanted, "high fat and high cholesterol surplus products" (3) such as processed pork balls (which use the pieces of the pig which restaurants refuse) or apples with no taste. (4) Enhancing this problem are vending machines filled with Coke and Pepsi products, the result of lucrative contracts with companies garnering exclusive rights to selling their soda in our nation's schools. (5)

Although the National School Lunch Program is regulated, some nutritionists and food advocates suggest more stringent meal guidelines because cheese and other processed and canned foods are among the most common commodities available at no cost to schools. Not surprisingly, this discourages serving fresh fruits and vegetables. (6)

It has been suggested that the meat and dairy lobbies have significant influence over those making decisions to purchase surplus beef, pork and other high-protein food commodities to the neglect of healthier items. Schools are prohibited from serving nondairy beverages as part of a subsidized lunch unless there is a medical reason not to drink cow's milk. (7)

Compounding the situation are additional food products sold in vending machines, in fundraising, and used as classroom incentives. Even teachers, administrators, and parents are served less-than-healthy foods, such as doughnuts at meetings and other events. (8)

According to Healthy Schools, a publication of the Healthy Schools Campaign, "healthcare professionals are seeing weight-related health problems in school children that in the past were simply nonexistent." (9) Soda, fast food and candy contribute to a higher caloric intake, a hundred or more calories daily than ten years ago, and worse, many kids are uninterested in eating fruits and vegetables. (10)

Wellness policy requirements

Wellness policy requirements of the school lunch law indicate that, in addition to following nutrition guidelines for all foods available on each school campus, schools should include goals for nutrition education and physical activity. Common sense dictates that kids and adults receive sound education about food choices and provide nutrition guidelines for what is being served. Some schools have already discovered that cultivating gardens, offering cooking classes, and replacing boring cafeterias with visually appealing food courts offering diverse cuisine also contribute to sounder nutrition habits. (11)

How does exercise factor into the equation? Although kids should receive an hour a day, many school districts allow students to skip physical education classes entirely. In some cases, this is due to limited time, staff and equipment.

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