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The Richer Life (Or Why Congress Should Pass the Child Nutrition Act)

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August 12, 2010 06:19 pm

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We as Americans have always wanted more for our children:  more money, more opportunities, bigger cars, bigger houses, andThe Richer Life Students_on_Track even more food.  We want a better life or perhaps, a bigger life than what we had.  But is bigger always better?  With the current recession, we have been forced to scale back and take a hard look at the consequences of our “bigger is better” attitude—including food. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one third of our children are overweight or obese—an epidemic.  That translates to 23 million children and adolescents.  When analyzing the current trends, the childhood obesity rate fares to continue growing.

The child obesity epidemic has attracted the attention of many Americans, ranging from First Lady Michelle Obama to chefs to members of Congress.  The truth of the matter is that we all have a stake in our children’s health, including the well being of our high school students.  Here are a few reasons why:

  • Cost:  The CDC estimates that medical expenses linked to obesity totaled around $147 billion in 2008 dollars. With an estimated 10.58 million children, or nearly one in three children ages 10–17, being overweight or obese in 2007, these costs can only be expected to increase.
  • Quality of Life: According to the CDC, high school students are at greater risk for childhood obesity in part because of a significant decrease in physical activity as students get older and less physical education embedded in the high school curriculum.
  • Security Risk:  Otherwise qualified recruits are turned away from military service due to obesity and other related weight problems.  According to a group of retired generals, obesity is one of three leading reasons why military recruits are rejected from service.  The military has a long history of involvement with school lunches.  During World War II, the military saw how inadequate nutrition led to stunted growth in recruits and became an advocate for school lunches following the war to improve the health of the nation’s soldiers.  Once again, our generals are sounding the alarms and pushing Congress to reform the school lunch program.
  • Education:  A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that adults who were overweight since high school were more likely to be single, suffer chronic health problems, lack postsecondary education, and receive unemployment compensation.  While discrimination may reinforce a lot of these negative effects, researchers found a negative correlation between high school grades and weight.

The Child Nutrition Act (CNA) offers a real answer to the childhood obesity epidemic.  It’s been nearly thirty years since the federal regulations have been updated.  We can fight childhood and adolescent obesity by ensuring higher quality nutritious foods are offered during the school day.  Currently, the underfunded and over processed lunches served in America’s schools are not updated with the most recent nutrition science.

During these tough economic times, more high school students than ever will look to school breakfasts and lunches as healthy meals.  We need CNA to ensure that students receive healthy school meals.  Schools should encourage healthy lifestyles, not enable destructive ones.  With the passage of CNA, all schools will have an additional six cents for each lunch that could go towards fresh and local produce, more funding for nutrition education programs, stricter standards for vending machine food and ala carte lines, and invaluable pilot programs to promote healthy food in cafeterias.

Childhood obesity is a societal problem that requires the work of an entire community, including families, educators, and community leaders.  However, Congress must provide the resources to allow our communities to tackle this epidemic.  The passage of CNA guarantees the first step towards truly providing our children richer lives.

Co-authored by Padmini Jambulapati, Fred Jones, and Brooke Donley

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.