Monday, February 20, 2012

School lunch and the military...

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed a new set of regulations for school meals last week, marking the first overhaul of these standards in more than 15 years.
And for the first time in 30 years, the government is expanding funding for schools, which meet its nutrition requirements.
Under these rules, cafeterias will now offer double the amount of fruits and vegetables, increase whole grain options, and reduce the amounts of saturated fat, trans fat and sodium. Gone is whole milk, to be replaced by skim and 1 percent. Portion sizes will be based on children's age groups, so that they are not consuming too many or too few calories.
The only part of the rule that will go into effect immediately is the switch to low fat milk. The other components will be put in place gradually over the next 3 years.
The aim is to tackle two growing problems in the United States and around the world.
On the one hand, rates of childhood obesity have nearly tripled in the U.S. since 1980. On the other, two-thirds of the 32 million children in the lunch line rely on government-subsidized or free school meals - more than ever before. *
The reality is that many families are struggling in this economy and the school lunch is likely a key component of these children’s daily nutrition.  So while I can pick apart at the individual components of the new guidelines the bottom line is they provide a much better alternative to the current school lunch offerings.  And the truth is that for most of students these new guidelines will provide their most nutritious food choices of the day.
However, these new guidelines are not mandatory but because they come with additional Federal support they are more likely to be adopted in some form.  Further just because more nutritious options are available kids still make the final decision.
With kids making the ultimate decision on what they choose to eat the best thing we can do is educate them on making good food choices and by serving as role models with the food choices we make.
As an interesting aside, the military community also praised the move because it could lead to more young adults eligible for service.
"Obesity is the leading medical reason why young adults are unable to join the military, with one in four too overweight to enlist," said Jamie Barnett a retired Rear Admiral for the Navy and member of MISSION: READINESS, an organization that aims to increase the percent of high school students fit for military service.
"The retired generals and admirals of Mission: Readiness strongly supported passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and today's announcement is an important step in helping reduce calories, fat and sodium in school meals so our obesity crisis does not become a national security crisis."
In the past half-century, the number of women of military age who exceed the U.S. Army's enlistment standards for weight-for-height and body fat percentage has more than tripled. For military-age men, the figure has more than doubled. As of 2007-08, 5.7 million men, or nearly 12 percent, and 16.5 million women, about 35 percent, of military age are ineligible for duty because they are overweight or obese; estimate John Cawley, associate professor of policy analysis and management, and economics doctoral student Catherine Maclean. *
Ultimately, Cawley said, the steep decline in military-eligible men and women illustrates the hidden costs of obesity.
"It's another example of the underappreciated public consequences of obesity," Cawley said. "We tend to think of obesity as a personal, individual health problem. But the fact that U.S. military leaders view it as a threat to national security and military readiness shows its far-reaching impact."
This fallout from the lifestyle choices we make as a nation have left us vulnerable to more than foreign conflicts but poor health and deteriorating standards of fitness and behavior as well.  Regardless of your views on the size and scope of America’s military we can all agree these facts are hard to ignore.  Numerous studies have acknowledged that physical activity and good nutrition practices improve academic and physical performance.  And it’s my strong belief along with a growing segment of health professionals that behavioral disorders such as ADHD are positively linked to poor lifestyle choices.  To compete in a globally competitive world our children need to be at top of their game.
And while these new school lunch guidelines are a positive step they amount to only 10-20% of a child’s weekly food intake.  The real gains in improving the health and prosperity of our children starts with the foundation and principles parents, coaches and teachers are uniquely positioned to provide.  Many topics of discussion may divide us but one thing we can all agree on is the health of our children.   It may be getting you no where to preach to your children to eat more fruit and vegetables and to get outside and play more but examine if you are practicing what your preach.  That is the first and most important step we can take.  We are the leaders of this generation and we must live the change we need in this nation.  Children are always watching us and they see and pick up on everything we do.
Fortunately many of you are already taking charge and I applaud you for doing so, lead on!

Phil Loomis
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist
Nutrition, Health and Education Advocates Applaud Historic Improvements to Meals Served in America's Schools:
*Cornell University (2010, October 18). Climbing obesity rates threaten U.S. national security by hampering military recruitment. ScienceDaily. 

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