Child obesity in developed countries continues to grow at an alarming rate, and school cafeterias might be the culprit.
Americans have the highest obesity rate of any country in the world, according to Obesity Update 2017. About 10 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds are obese, and that number grows to 17 percent by age 11 and over 20 percent by age 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (RELATED: Americans Are Literally Bursting At The Belt. Here’s A List Of Our Fattest Cities)
Roughly 25 percent of kids in the United Kingdom are overweight at 5 years old, and that proportion doubles during the subsequent six years, according to a February Science Daily report.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture made amendments to the nutrition standards for schools nationally in 2012 — after Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 — but students continue to suffer from highly processed, high-fat, salty foods. Before the guidelines, a typical cafeteria lunch consisted of cheese pizza, canned pineapple, tater tots and chocolate milk. Pizza sticks, raisins and whole milk was another normal lunch offering.
Obama’s strict nutrition guidelines during his time in office have since been relaxed in an effort to make budget cuts, according to Business Insider. Regulations ensuring percentages of whole grains have been removed, and students have resumed drinking chocolate milk where they were provided only skim previously. Regulation of sodium levels has also been relaxed.
“The meals are much healthier than they used to be in the great majority of schools,” Marion Nestle, an author, professor and researcher of socioeconomic influences on food choice and obesity told The Daily Caller News Foundation Friday. She noted that some schools “still offer way too much junk food and break the rules whenever they can.” She explained that schools where staff think what kids eat matters do a pretty good job of serving healthy meals, but that is often not the case.
While food continues to evolve away from its most natural form, the problem is exasperated by accountants running cafeterias rather than food experts. The result is that too often, school meals are governed by cost rather than health.
Chef and educator Jamie Oliver addressed the British Parliament on May 1 to talk about the importance of food education and methods to combat child obesity. Shortly thereafter, he launched a five-day veggie challenge, intended to encourage Brits and followers around the world to add more vegetables to their diets.
#5DayVeggie Challenge starts TOMORROW! It’s about switching up the routine and discovering new ideas to make vegetables really sing. Plus, the clever meal planner guarantees you get at least five portions of veg and fruit on each day of the challenge. https://t.co/gJ23JiOfY8 pic.twitter.com/oPeczXX3eT
— Jamie Oliver (@jamieoliver) May 13, 2018
Oliver posits food is primal in nature in its ability to shape life (and death).
“Power of food has a primal place in our homes that binds us to the best bits of life,” he said in his February 2010 TED talk, “Teach Every Kid About Food.” “Children will live less long because of the landscape of food, less long than their parents for the first time ever.”
Oliver pointed to the fact that diets have drastically changed over the past 30 years, yielding highly processed, salty, fatty and sugary foods that make up the staple of far too many kids’ diets in America, the U.K. and elsewhere.
“We are guilty of child abuse by feeding kids pounds upon pounds of sugar that’s killing them,” Oliver said.
After visiting an elementary school and discovering that a majority of students cannot identify common fruits and vegetables, Oliver realized that a simple session educating students about fresh fruits and vegetables can solve problems in a big way.
Students eat a majority of their meals at school: about 20 percent of students eat breakfast at school and over 90 percent each lunch at school.
The problem isn’t only in schools either; workplaces with candy-filled vending machines perpetuate the problem into adulthood. In addition to educating kids about food in school, Oliver insists that there should be a food ambassador in every supermarket and that food education must live at the heart of every school and business.
About 40 percent of Americans older than 15 qualify as obese, WalletHub reported. In contrast, less than 6 percent of people in Korea and Japan are obese, while over 30 percent of people living in Hungary, New Zealand, Mexico and America are obese as of 2015.
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