Childhood Obesity and National School Lunch Program

It’s no secret that we’re currently facing a childhood obesity epidemic.      According to the CDC, approximately 31.7% of children are either overweight or obese (BMI ≥ 85th percentile), and more specifically 17% are obese (BMI ≥ 95th percentile).  That means almost one in three children is either overweight or obese!

This frightening reality led President Obama to take proactive measures.  In 2010, The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed in order to reach out to more children by increasing accessibility to healthy, balanced, and nutritious school lunches.  The number of students eligible to enroll in school meal programs was increased and the standards of quality of food served were improved.  In addition, the Let’s Move campaign headed by Michelle Obama was launched.  The premise behind this program was to get the entire community involved in encouraging and developing a healthier lifestyle for the children.  Everyone – parents, schools, community leaders, elected officials, and the kids – has a role to play.  Remember the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child?”  Well, it couldn’t be more true in battling this epidemic.

Childhood obesity has serious implications.  It increases the risk for cardiovascular diseases (such as hypertension and hypercholestrolemia), type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, fractures, deformities, depression, bullying, and low self-esteem.

One of the major ways the government strives to alleviate the current crisis is by funding the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which aims to serve nutritious, low-cost or free meals to students in public and non-profit private schools.  In return, schools that meet the meal requirements are given federal funding to help provide these meals to students in need.

Even though school lunches have steadily improved over the last 15 years, anyone who’s taken a look at the food that is being served to students can testify that it’s still overly processed and laden with preservatives, sodium, sugar, and trans fats.  The reason being, the schools are NOT complying with federal guidelines.

Beginning July 1, 2012, new nutrition standards will be implemented that schools participating in the NSLP and breakfast programs must follow.  The standards are based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  Here’s a  comparison between the present and the new requirements.Now, I know that this transition is going to be a long and gradual process, but it’s exciting to see that we’re heading in the right direction regarding the childhood obesity crisis.  The government is encouraging more participation from schools across the country by reimbursing 6 cents per student to schools that meet the requirements starting October 1st.  6 cents may not seem like much, but multiply that by the number of students…you can do the math 😉 we’re talking millions of dollars!

The focus of this new change is to offer fruits and vegetables as two separate meal components everyday, increase whole grains (must be at least 1/2 of grains served), offer only fat free and low-fat milk, and reduce levels of sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and calories.  By 2014, all grains served must be whole grain rich.

I also love that the new rule gives children access to a variety of vegetables as it establishes minimum requirements from all subgroups rather than just lumping them all into one general category.  Just a side of mashed potatoes won’t cut it anymore!  I would LOVE to see children eating kale, mustard green, beets…It gets me so excited thinking about it!!  And as far as meat goes, tofu and soy yogurt products will be credited as meat alternatives to meet the dietary needs of vegetarians and different cultural groups in schools.

A tremendous amount of school participation is anticipated this year due to the 6 cents compensation, which means astronomical numbers of new menus will be submitted, hoping for the government’s stamp of approval.

I’ve actually been given the incredible opportunity to be one of the reviewers for the state of Texas!  Starting September, I’ll be working for the Texas Department of Agriculture as a contract worker to review and approve or reject menus submitted by participating schools.  For schools that don’t pass, I’ll be advising them on the necessary changes. I’m going to make sure that NOTHING gets past me!  Muhahaha…I don’t mind being someone’s worst nightmare in this instance ;).  Oh man, I may be taking on a lot more than I can handle this fall, but how can I pass up this amazing experience?

So going back to what I said earlier, it takes a village to raise a child!   An incredibly informative blog that I like to read is The Lunch Tray.  Reading this blog really inspires me to be a part of the school food reform movement.  The government cannot oversee every individual school, and therefore we all have a role to play in tackling the childhood obesity epidemic.  So let’s be proactive and seek ways to help out in the community!

As a thank you for reading this long, wordy post, I leave you with a picture that’s bound to put a smile on your face.  I know the picture is rather huge..but I couldn’t resist.

He loves his sweet potatoes 🙂

Remember my nephew Noah?  He’s almost 6 mo. old now!  His mommy did an incredible job breastfeeding him the entire time, and he has just recently been exposed to the wonderful world of solid foods ;).  And what do you know?  This lil’ bundle of joy loves just about everything!  Avocado, sweet potato, butternut squash, peas..he’s not a picky eater (unlike his mother).  Proper nutrition starts at home, and I’m so proud of my sister, a first-time mother, for being so fully devoted in helping Noah develop healthy food preferences.

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28 Responses to Childhood Obesity and National School Lunch Program

  1. Corrie Anne says:

    That’s awesome. I’m not a parent yet, but as a teacher I know how important good nutrition for kids is. They can’t concentrate with a few french fries in their stomach!

  2. Congratulations, Min!! I’m SO excited for you to begin working as a school lunch menu analyst/reviewer! Your passion for reform is so evident; I couldn’t imagine a more perfect person for the job! Please promise that you’ll share your experience with us? This sounds like a dream job–I would love this job!

    I’m earning my masters in Health Promotion, so these topics are very near and dear to my heart. I actually interned at the USDA last semester, and worked in the Food and Nutrition Service, which oversees the NSLP. I greatly enjoyed the exposure to the inner-workings of government policy implementation, but quickly realized how bureaucratic policy CHANGE can be. Thus, I’m ecstatic that new nutrition standards will be implemented in schools next year! This is HUGE. Now we just need to get kids to *like* the healthy foods. The chair of my department has been running a healthy lunch pilot program in some of DC’s public schools (produce from school gardens is used in the cafeteria; healthier foods are offered etc), but the kids won’t eat it! The key is definitely getting them on board when they’re super young (like your sister has done with your ADORABLE nephew!).

    Happy Friday! xoxo ❤

    • Min says:

      Aww..thanks Sara for your kind words and encouragement! You know I’ll def be sharing my experience ;). Sounds like you had quite an awesome experience yourself working for the USDA! Yea..that’s the problem..getting the kids to enjoy kale? How do you do that? I’ve heard that schools are going to try to implement more nutrition education for the kids, as studies have shown that those who have been taught the importance of nutrition and had hands on experience were more eager to try different food.
      It’s not going to be easy though, I’m sure. But we have got to keep trying, right?

  3. Oh my goodness WOW- what a fabulous initiative and even more fabulous opportunity for you! i am so proud of you and you have no idea how many children’s lives you are going to improve! It’s so important to teach individuals healthy habits at an early age so that it is second nature to them for the rest of their life. The sad part is that much of unhealthy eating habits is fostered from lack of availability- no one is to blame entirely but schools should take the steps to ensure that the students have a CHOICE and OPTIONS to incorporate foods which will help them meet their dietary requirements. I’m all for leading by action and this program sounds just what the US needs!

    • Min says:

      Thanks, Khushboo! I’m so excited to start ;). And you’re right about lack of availability being one of the reasons why kids aren’t getting the proper nutrition they need to thrive. Obesity surely is associated with low socioeconomic status. That’s why I’m so glad that the NSLP is implementing this new nutrition standards! Prevention not treatment!! Must start early!

  4. This is a topic I really care about Min – I have worked with overweight/obese children and the consequences for them of their weight (social and emotional as well as physical) are so pronounced. I definitely believe it’s our responsibility as a society to put things in place to help them be healthy, and this initiative sounds fantastic!

    • Min says:

      You’re absolutely right, Kari. Oftentimes we focus heavily on physical ramification of obesity, but the emotional scars from bullying and low self-esteem cannot be ignored! My hope is that more and more people will step-up and get involved in their communities. Can’t wait to see this initiative take off 😉

  5. Stephanie says:

    What an exciting opportunity Min! Congratulations!

  6. Courtney says:

    Congratulations!! I wish my school lunches had been healthy; they always lacked color and flavor. :/ Also your nephew is precious! 😀

  7. That’s such a cool opportunity for you! Congrats! I may concentrate on childhood obesity in my graduate studies.

  8. Yoonie says:

    Wowza that’s a huge picture of Noah 😳

    Boy it feels pretty awesome to be recognized! Thanks sis for your kind words, I felt every word…

    And congrats on your new opportunity! I know you will rock it!! I’m so excited and mighty proud of everything that’s happening around you but sometimes stop and smell the roses too okay?? Luv ya 😘

    • Min says:

      Like I said, I just couldn’t resist..hehe. Hello, Noah! 😉
      Well, you deserve it! You’ve done such an amazing job..I’m extremely proud of you!
      And yes..I shall try. I’m breaking out which means I need zzzz ;).

  9. hehehe Noah is too cute! He looks like a joyful baby~And that’s a great post Min unni! I think it’s a HUGE deal that you’re hired for SUCHHHHHHHHHHHHH AN AWESOME POSITION! Wow. That is pretty crazy and funny enough, I feel so secure that you’re on board….b/c I’m sure NOTHING that’s unhealthy will get past you, haha. Where were you when I was a child?! 😛

    • Min says:

      He sure is looking quite jolly lately with his chubby cheeks and ever so growing belly! And he still looks 100% Korean!! We thought his face might change as he he grows up. Seriously, who would think he’s half Mexican? haha. Thanks, Ellie! You’re so awesome :). Oh and trust me, I would’ve been no help back then. I was struggling myself, eating junk food all the time hehe. What kind of food is served at schools in Argentina?

  10. Brittany says:

    Ahhh!! So sorry I have missed so many of your posts!! I fixed my reader, so now it shouldn’t be a problem. I was wondering about you! lol..

    This is an amazing opportunity!! I am working with 4 of the elementary schools here trying to get on board with this and to change their school wellness policies and physical education courses for my master’s degree!! Keep me posted on this! 🙂

    • Min says:

      Yay! I’m honored that I made it onto your reader ;).
      Wow, Brittany! I’d love to hear more about what you’re doing as well..Let’s definitely keep each other posted!!
      Hope you have a blessed Sunday!!

  11. erinmotz says:

    What a great post! Such a sad/maddening fact that our school systems’ lunches are so pathetic. You’ll have to show ’em who’s boss! 😉

  12. Min says:

    It is so disheartening to know the truth..But we must wake-up, face the reality, and take the initiatives needed to make the necessary changes. No more spectating. And yes! I WILL show them what’s up hehe.

  13. Congratulations!! I know you will do an amazing job helping schools develop nutritious meals! What a perfect position for you 🙂 In the office, it is true that so many of my patients are facing obesity and the complications of obesity. It’s often the small positive changes (in diet, exercise, etc), added up over time, that can make a difference! You’ll be making a huge difference if you can change what the kids have access to daily for lunch…so proud of you 🙂

    Noah is SO cute, btw! That’s awesome that he loves to eat everything, your sister must be so happy 🙂

    • Min says:

      Thanks, Maura! I’m super excited! However, I am a lil’ nervous..will I be able to juggle everything and stay sane and calm at the same time? School, church, work, three hour commute, teaching, spending time with the hubby, trying to start a family..I just need to keep praying, and God will see me through!
      Noah really is a bundle of joy! It’s amazing how one child can completely change a family’s dynamic! He sure is the center of our attention ;).

      • You have a three hour commute?? I will be praying for you! See what you can handle and if you are starting to get stressed out, then eliminate what you can….well, don’t eliminate spending time with Tim 😉

      • Min says:

        Yea..3 hour round trip not one-way. We moved to this house because TIm’s hospital was just down the street.. I wanted him to live close to his workplace…but then he ended up taking a position elsewhere so now we both have this ridiculous commute…sigh..oh well, what can we do..
        Yea..I’m going to have to not eliminate but prioritize better

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