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Children's Health

School Lunches Linked to Kids' Obesity

Study Shows Kids Who Bring Lunch From Home Are Less Likely to Be Overweight
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School Lunch vs. Lunch From Home continued...

The school-lunch kids also were less likely to participate in active sports like basketball, moderate exercise like walking, or team sports than their home-fed counterparts. And they spent more time watching TV, playing video games, and using computers outside of school.

"One-third of kids in the U.S. are now overweight or obese, which means one-third of kids are at risk of heart disease and diabetes as they age. That scares me," Jackson says.

"If we don't do something now, the recent trend toward fewer deaths due to heart disease among U.S. adults is in jeopardy of reversing, she says.

Parents' Options

So should you be packing your kids lunch?

Michael Barrett, MD, co-chairman of the committee that chose which studies to highlight at the meeting and a cardiologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, says that's not necessarily the solution.

There's no way to be sure what you’re packing in their lunches is what they are actually eating; foods can be traded and snacks can be bought from vending machines or local stores, he says.

Instead, parents need to work with school systems to ensure that school lunches have less salt and fat and more fiber, Jackson says.

Parents also need to feed kids healthy foods at home, both at meals and for snacks, she says.

From an exercise point of view, "integrate small steps such as walking to school," Jackson says.

Recent data show that while an estimated 30.6 million U.S. students eat school lunches, only 6% of school lunch programs meet the requirements established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For example, the average sodium content was twice that recommended, and 80% of schools exceeded rules to keep fat to less than 30% of total calories.

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