As the places where children spend most of their waking hours, schools are responsible for much more than the academic education of their students. Recently, several initiatives have been made to improve child nutrition at school.
First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let’s Move! campaign in February 2010. Designed to fight childhood obesity in the United States, the campaign’s major aims include better food labeling, encouraging physical activity for children, and the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act to improve school lunches. Now, according to an article in Education Week, “First lady Michelle Obama's campaign for healthier school lunches could be revived in Congress” in the form of a $4.5 billion child nutrition bill that passed in the Senate last summer.
The bill’s new lunch standards, "which would be decided by the Agriculture Department, would not remove popular foods like hamburgers from schools but would make them healthier, using leaner meat or whole wheat buns, for example. Vending machines could be stocked with less candy and fewer high-calorie drinks."
A step ahead of legislation, schools in Cincinnati, OH and Syracuse, NY are taking part in a nutritious experiment aimed at getting kids to eat carrots “Like Junk Food.” That’s the slogan of the baby carrot advertising campaign, which tests the hypothesis that “kids will eat healthier food if it's advertised (and packaged) similarly to, say, Doritos” (LA Weekly). Therefore, participating schools have done away with their typical snack foods and brought in all-carrot vending machines. According to George Coates, Mason High’s assistant principal, the health-conscious marketing seems to work. “It hadn’t been an hour after they filled the machines, that we had students coming in and purchasing baby carrots,” Coates told the Middletown Journal.
In the District of Columbia, new legislation is trying to address the twofold problem of childhood malnutrition: rising rates of hunger and obesity. Recently, public schools have started serving early dinners to an estimated 10,000 students in D.C. The Washington Post reports the three goals of the dinner program: “hedging against childhood hunger, reducing alarming rates of obesity, and drawing more students to after-school programs, where extra academic help is available.” The dinner program will also be serving healthy, fresh, and locally-grown food as part of the Healthy Schools Act, effective August 2010, which requires public and charter schools to meet higher standards for student nutrition.
The relationship between eating healthy and academic success is not one to be overlooked. Numerous studies show that proper diet and exercise are essential not only for the health of our bodies, but also the health of our minds. “The Learning Connection: The Value of Improving Nutrition and Physical Activity in Our Schools,” published by Action for Healthy Kids, cites several studies that show the positive correlation between poor nutrition and decreased academic performance: “Well-nourished students tend to be better students, while poorly nourished children tend to have weaker academic performance and score lower on standardized achievement tests.” Moreover, although providing extra school meals and making them healthier will cost a great deal of money, there is an abundance of evidence to suggest that it will be paid back with the academic improvement of students.
This post was written by Eye On Education staff member Lauren Beebe.