Eye in the Pie

20111019-FNS-RBN-1755

Here’s a really interesting list, titled “25 Facts You Should Share for School Lunch Week,” and although School Lunch Week was in October, there is no point in waiting until next October to become informed about these matters. Of course, consulting the original article is recommended.

One of the subjects covered was recently discussed by Childhood Obesity News — the astonishing discovery that many schools have not been in the habit of making drinking water available to students. Now, any school participating in the National School Lunch Program, which is 95% of them, has to.

Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and similar legislation, 30% of American middle schools and high schools offer lunch options for vegetarians, and 85% of high school lunch programs have fresh vegetables and fruit on a daily basis. By federal law, deep-fried foods are limited to two portions per week.

Soda pop can’t be sold in elementary school cafeterias during lunch, which still leaves a lot of circumstances under which it can be sold. The writer says:

In 2006, the top soft-drink companies agreed to remove sweetened drinks from school cafeterias and vending machines. Students instead have the option to choose between bottled water, milk and 100% fruit juices in elementary schools, and the same selections plus sports drinks and diet soda in high schools… Many campuses went ahead and banned soft drinks altogether.

On the minus side, sports drinks and diet soda are not demonstrably better for kids than regular soda. On the plus side, the serving size of the cans of sugar-sweetened beverages that can be sold in elementary, middle, and high schools, is different. Smaller kids get smaller cans.

But… here’s the bad news. A school district only gets from the government $2.68 per meal per child, and when overhead is deducted, only $1.00 per meal per child is left to buy actual food with. This does not speak well for the quality. On top of that, the chow-hall grub contains a lot of additives and preservatives. And the meals served by the cafeteria are not the only factor:

Currently, foods sold in school vending machines, snack bars and a la carte lines are not required to meet federal nutrition standards. Referred to as ‘competitive foods’, these products don’t always fall under federal regulations for healthy noshes.

Even with strictly regulated meals, what’s to stop a kid from swapping with friends to get an extra dessert or two? Oh, wait. The authorities have taken that into consideration and installed surveillance cameras. Just kidding. The cameras are for science.

A few months ago, alarmists got all excited and made claims like, “Schools in the U.S. are installing cameras in their canteens to monitor what pupils eat.” Actually, it’s only in San Antonio, TX, where a four-year Department of Agriculture study is being carried out. Parents had to give permission for their children to participate (90% did). The cameras photograph the lunch trays, not the people, although they are personally identifiable to the point where parents can check up on what their kids ate for lunch.

In the course of a very thorough inquiry into the aims and methodology of the study, Associated Press reporter Paul J. Weber interviewed Dr. Roger Echon of the Social & Health Research Center. Weber wrote:

Each lunch tray gets a bar code sticker to identify a student. After the children load up their plates down the line… a camera above the cashier takes a picture of each tray. When lunch is over and the plates are returned to the kitchen, another camera takes a snapshot of what’s left. Echon’s program then analyzes the before and after photos to calculate calories consumed and the values of 128 other nutrients. It identifies foods by measuring size, shape, color and density.

Apparently there are two different aims: an immediate one, where parents can use the information now to adjust their home-feeding plans as needed. The data will also be used to “study what foods children are likely to choose and how much they’re eating.” Weber goes into detail about why this is preferable to the old information-gathering techniques.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “25 Facts You Should Share for School Lunch Week,” AccreditedOnlineColleges.com, 10/11
Source: “Children scoff under watchful eye,” Entertainment.stv.tv, 05/16/11
Source: “Calorie Camera: Schools Photographing Students’ Lunch Trays,” CNSnews.com, 05/12/11
Image by USDAgov (U.S. Department of Agriculture), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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