Do Those Healthy School Lunch Initiatives Even Matter?

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Of the many things that chap my hide about the trend of making school lunches “healthy” is that it doesn’t even work. And really, why would we think it would? Taking chocolate milk away from kids during their lunch hour doesn’t really have anything to do with what they’re eating for breakfast, after-school snacks or dinner.

This Maine Public Radio program explains how it doesn’t even cover the during school hours:

“People bring two liters to school — like Mountain Dew, Coke and Pepsi, and just walk around school drinking them,” said Marty Rioux, a 15-year-old who just finished his freshman year at Westbrook High School.

Maine schools ban the sale of sodas on the premises, but Rioux says kids just find other ways to get the drinks.

Apparently kids aren’t quite as easily foiled as legislators and school administrators think! In fact, they’re probably consuming more of the sugary poison than they were before.

Maine schools have been doing everything they can to reduce student access to sodas and snacks as part of an anti-obesity effort. But researchers at the University of Southern Maine say that the rates of overweight and obese high school students are still high. In fact, about a quarter of the 550 Maine teenagers they surveyed are in one of those categories.

While some studies have suggested that the proximity of stores that sell sugary snacks may have an impact on student health, the USM study showed different results.

A nutrition expert who is throwing cold water on the study actually proves my point, which is that what happens outside of school is arguably more important than what happens in it. You can’t force children to eat healthy. She points to how children might be “rewarded” with slushies after a soccer game. The horror! The horror! But you know what? The kids playing soccer are probably not the kids in the “morbidly obese” category, then, are they?

The folks in Maine are wondering whether they can enact “corner store initiatives” that would require these stores to have healthier options available. I’m pretty sure that’s how the market works, right?

I’m not saying that the weight of the average American isn’t a problem. I have my own particular views on why this is (a vast conspiracy involving carbohydrates from processed foods and starches). But schools overrate their importance in helping kids learn about healthy eating. And these healthy food initiatives ignore the far larger problem — a problem schools are part of. Kids spend an average of something like six hours a day in front of computer, television and other electronic screens. We never leave them out of our site so they can’t just roam the neighborhood and get into trouble on crazy bike rides. Even school itself involves mostly sedentary activity and almost prison-like conditions.

Choco milk is not the problem, really.

Anyway, the USM study will be published in the next edition of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.