Deadly Diet: School Lunches Flunk Out
A national wellness campaign is working to take junk food out of schools, and put nutrition back in.
The number of obese and overweight children in the United States continues
to soar, and yet, over the past two decades, junk food and drinks have staked
out a beachhead in America's schools.
Now a new wellness campaign has parents on the front lines of the battle,
ready to turn back the clock -- and take back their children's health.
Passing Math but Flunking Lunch
Carey Dabney is one of those parents on the front lines. When Dabney moved
to Austin, Texas in 1999, she attended a back-to-school night for her two
daughters, then both in middle school. She was delighted to hear the health
teacher talk about everything she was teaching regarding nutrition and fitness -- until the very end of
"She said, 'But nothing I do here matters, because you should see what
they eat at lunch,'" recalls Dabney.
A quick tour of the school told Dabney what the teacher meant. There were
six to eight vending machines right outside the cafeteria, selling sweetened soft drinks. candy
bars, and potato chips.
Even before they could pass the vending machines, students would run a
gauntlet of booster club tables hawking candy, chips, and cakes.
If they made it past the one-two punch of vending machines and candy
boosters, students entered the cafeteria to find the "a la carte" line
selling pints of ice cream, tubs of chips with cheese sauce, and giant slices
of pizza. "The a la carte line snaked out the door, while the little
cafeteria line with the regular food never had many people in it," Dabney
If you're a parent with a child in middle school or high school, Dabney's
experience probably sounds very familiar.
Deadly Diet: Kids' Health at Risk
That's why the stakes are so high, says Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH, an
expert on childhood obesity and the author of Healthy
Lunchbox: The Working Mom's Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim.
By 2010 approximately half of all children are expected to be obese,
according to the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, says
McAllister. "Many experts predict that this generation of children will be
the first to have a shorter lifespan than their parents."
In May, the campaign to "de-junk" school menus got a boost from the
former "snacker-in-chief," Bill Clinton, whose love for fries and
greasy food contributed to his own cardiac bypass surgery in 2004.
The Alliance for a Healthier Generation -- a joint initiative of the William
J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association -- worked with
representatives of leading beverage manufacturers to stop nearly all sales of
sugary soft drinks in the nation's public schools. Under new guidelines, only
lower-calorie and nutritious beverages will be sold to schools.
"It's a great place to start," says McAllister. "I'm very
encouraged. But there's so much more we have to do, such as dramatically
improving the quality of the food schools offer at lunchtime."