Obesity Problem in American Schools

Introduction

Although not easy to admit, it is a fact that a big percentage of the world’s population today likes junk food. Many people have become accustomed to eating foods with high levels of refined sugars, processed grains, and several other unhealthy ingredients (Trice, 2010).

Essentially, companies have replaced nature’s ingredients with highly processed products and chemicals to reduce costs, extend shelf life, and raise profits.

Excessive salt, sugar, and preservatives are added to replace taste that is lost when using lower quality ingredients. However, things get tricky when such activities put the lives of innocent students at risk.

Concerns about Junk Food in Public Schools

According to Smith (2011), school children eat one-third of their meals at school during any academic year. As a result, American schools are in a unique position to help improve youth dietary behaviors and prevent cases of obesity.

As childhood obesity has dramatically increased over the past few decades, the food offered in schools and the school environment has continued to receive scrutiny.

The nutritional quality of these meals has been challenged as has a wide variety of foods that are sold in vending machines and school stores. Most researchers are convinced that schools are contributing to the obesity crisis, rather than trying to control it.

The improve sales, much fast food, and junk food corporations have been associated with the production of educational materials for use in schools (Cobb, 2006).

These materials minimally advertise the company and its products, but often the content in the materials reflects corporate views on issues related to health and nutrition. This is in addition to specific programs offered by fast food companies.

While the effectiveness of corporate materials has been questioned, no concerns have been raised regarding the fact that students are consuming increasing amounts of junk food.

Victims of Junk Food in Public Schools

Generally, school going children are the ones most affected by junk food. Many outlets are commonly opened near schools so that students can visit them for breakfast and lunch after school.

According to Oliver (2005), public schools have been the main target for fast food and junk food manufacturers for many generations.

Commercial messages are often conveyed in schools through posters, billboards, corporate-sponsored educational materials, and product placement in textbooks.

Unfortunately, advertisements for junk food on school grounds convey the message that the products are endorsed by schools. As a result, parents’ criticisms of these products at home become less credible.

Possible Solutions/Resolutions

To address the problem of junk food in public schools, bills have been introduced in various places to require that schools stock their vending machines with healthy snacks and postpone soft drink sales until after lunch.

To show the seriousness of the matter, laws had to be put in place to abolish the sale of junk food in schools. In 2002, for instance, the Texas legislature restricted the sale of fast foods in public schools.

The Los Angeles Unified School District voted to ban the sale of soft drinks in schools during school hours but permitted them to be sold thirty minutes after school and at sports and other events. In 2006, Connecticut banned the sale of soda and other sugary drinks in the state’s public schools.

In 2006, a bill was introduced in the Arizona legislature that would pay school districts $50,000 for preceding junk food sales on campus. In a bid to augment government efforts, many organizations decided to control products sold to schools.

In May 2006, for example, the major soft drink manufacturers agreed to remove sweet drinks from schools.

The New York City’s Department of Education also banned the sale of non-nutritious soda and junk food in vending machines while the American Beverage Association claimed an 88 percent reduction in the sale of sugar added beverages through vending machines in schools.

At the federal level, anti-junk food bills have been introduced to address the problem. In 2004 Susan Combs, the Texas agricultural commissioner, banned many junk foods from schools in the United States.

In the same year, Senator Tom Harkin introduced the Healthy Lifestyles and Prevention American Act, and in 2005, Senator Ted Kennedy introduced the Prevention of Childhood Obesity Act.

Both bills, had they passed, would have restricted the marketing of junk food in schools and encouraged improved nutritional education in schools.

In December 2010, Congress passed, and the president signed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kid Act, which requires the secretary of agriculture to use science-based nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, including vending machines, snack bars, and school stores.

The act is expected to greatly reduce the number of junk foods in schools, including sugary beverages, and increase the number of organic foods available in schools.

The act also restricts the frequent sale of junk foods for school fundraising activities during school hours. The legislation does not apply to events held after school.

According to Nestle (2007), advocates maintain that if schools are doing their job properly, school meals should contribute to healthful eating habits, should be fully integrated into educational activities, and should receive adequate financial support.

They believe that such purposes would be best served if food service departments managed sales of all foods in schools, rather than administrators or sports officials for whom nutrition and health are not necessarily high priorities.

Advocates especially fear that competitive foods jeopardize the economic viability of school meal programs because these programs are expected to be self-supporting with federal reimbursements and must have adequate sales volume to survive.

The short time devoted to lunch periods in many schools also discourages students from eating full meals and encourages the purchase of competitive foods that can be eaten on the run. A helpful strategy, therefore, is to allow students ample time for lunch.

Ostensibly, the combination of the various circumstances has forced school food service departments to put substantial effort into recruiting participants through the development of in house food brands, restaurant type menus, food courts, food carts, and new food items that can be purchased separately from meals.

They also are forced to seek ways to improve the image of school meals, stimulate demand for more healthful food choices, and involve students in decisions about how to make schools meals more appealing.

All of these actions make excellent sense from a business standpoint, but only some of them reinforce the school’s educational mission.

Anti-commercialism advocates urge students to identify and resist school marketing, communities, and states to require firm adherence to existing regulations, and school boards to disallow unfavorable agreements that put students at the mercy of businessmen and women.

Personal Perspective

The well-financed promotion in schools of junk foods associated with poor nutritional quality directly undermines federal efforts to improve the dietary intake of children and to reduce rates of childhood obesity.

Even though advertisers of junk foods are now working in collaboration with some schools, innocent students must be shielded from their selfish ambitions.

By all means, schools must fight for the rights of children and must resist any form of abuse. It is critical for stakeholders to put in place rules and regulations to ensure that no one takes advantage of innocent students.

As pointed out earlier, schools must allow students enough time to eat real food to avoid putting them in situations where they have to merely depend on junk foods to survive.

Considering that the future of any nation belongs to the young generation, learning institutions must look into issues that have to do with their welfare.

Certainly, if children are subjected to poor living conditions at an early age, it is a sure way of interfering with the future development of a country.

Conclusion

Beyond doubt, the problem of junk foods in schools is a subject of concern to all stakeholders. Even though manufacturers have financial targets to meet, it is unfair for them to carry out their activities in such a way that school going children are made to suffer.

Exposing students to unhealthy ways of living can only serve to raise citizens who are incapable of handling the pressures of daily life as they grow into adulthood. As such, it is important for legislatures, teachers, and parents to play their part in ensuring that children grow up responsibly.

References

Cobb, V. (2006). Junk Food. Minneapolis, Minnesota: LernerClassroom.

Nestle, M. (2007). Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health. London, UK: University of California Press.

Oliver, J. E. (2005). Fat Politics: The Real Story behind America’s Obesity Epidemic: The Real Story behind America’s Obesity Epidemic. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Smith, F. A. (2011). Fast Food and Junk Food: An Encyclopedia of What We Love to Eat, Volume 2. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO.

Trice, L. (2010). The Wholesome Junk Food Cookbook: More Than 100 Healthy Recipes for Everyday Snacking. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press.