Monday, June 16, 2014

Are Kids Eating More Healthy Food Now?

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2009-2010) showed that about one-third of children and adolescents aged between 6 and 19 are considered to be overweight or obese and among them, more than 1 in 6 are considered to be obese.

Overweight and obesity are known to be the risk factors of a number of chronic diseases including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, Type-2 diabetes and even certain types of cancer. Hence, childhood obesity is a big health issue for the Americans. For years, scientists have been blaming unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle for causing the obesity epidemic.

Every day, about 32 million students eat at school. For many low-income students, up to half of their daily energy intake comes from school meals. The breakfast and lunch served at schools used to be high in sodium and saturated fats and low in whole grains and fiber.

In 2012, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommended a series of guidelines to schools to improve the nutritional quality of their lunches, including adding more whole grains, offering fruits and vegetables and only fat-free or low-fat milk, reducing saturated fat, trans fat and sodium and monitoring portion sizes for calorie control.

But does the new guidelines have any positive impact on the kids’ meal? To find out the answers, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed the food waste of 1,030 students from 4 low-income schools in Massachusetts, before and after the USDA guidelines were in place.

Their analysis showed that after the new guidelines were introduced, fruit selection increased by almost 23 percent (from 52.7 to 75.7 percent.), and vegetable consumption increased 16.2 percent (from 24.9 to 41.1 percent). Kids loved fresh vegetables, especially baby carrots. They published their report in April 2014 issue of the ‘American Journal of Preventative Medicine’.

According to researchers, the food waste did not increase after the new guidelines were introduced suggesting students were actually eating the fruit rather than throwing it away. But it was noted that large amounts of food still end up in the trash. Approximately 60 to 75 percent of vegetables and 40 percent of fruits were discarded after they were served.

There is no doubt that schools are required to offer more fruits and vegetables under the new recommendation. But doing this alone might not be enough to raise the overall standards. In order to lower the overall waste levels, schools need to focus not only on the quality and palatability of the fruits and vegetables offered but also on creative methods of engaging students to taste and participate in selection of menu items.

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