Obesity Prevention Meets Kansas Comedians

schoolchildren lying on grass

The federal Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 actually started to be implemented in July of 2012 with changes to the national school lunch program, which affects about 32 million students. Over a three-year period, schools were directed to serve more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and less salt and fat. The new rules, although well-intentioned, allowed some items, such as trail mix and granola bars, that are not really super-healthful.

But that was inconsequential compared to the problem that arose because of the calorie limits, which were perceived by many students as being too stingy. Some kids from Wallace County High School in Sharon Springs, Kansas, made a satirical music video to highlight the problem. It begins with stark white lettering on a black background:

Active teens require between 2000-5000 calories a day to meet energy and growth need.
School lunch policy mandated ALL teens receive ONLY 750-850 calories per lunch.

The name of the song is “We Are Hungry” and the visuals are quite funny, with kids crumpling and collapsing in desperate attitudes of starvation. In the frame shown on this page, elementary schoolchildren, too weak to walk, crawl across the lawn. The filmmakers also point out the irony of unintended consequences stemming from a piece of legislation with the word “hunger-free” in its title.

The work was posted on YouTube in September of 2012 with a short block of text clarifying the message. The kids wanted everyone to know that they were happy about the availability of more fruits and vegetables in their school lunches. But….

We feel the protein and carbohydrate limitations, 10-12 ounces a week, are not enough fuel for our average very active student. Almost all our students have a weights class and compete in sports.

A week later, “We Are Hungry” got its own Facebook page, where notifications of the numerous media mentions were posted. Stories appeared in the Drudge Report, the London Daily Mail, NBC’s Today Show, ABC World News, 20/20, Fox News, USA Today, Huffington Post, Medical Daily, the Christian Science Monitor, and thousands of blogs.

In mid 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture backpedaled a bit, letting some previously banned items return to cafeteria menus, and allowing more protein and whole grains to be served per meal. Time magazine writer Alexandra Sifferlin obtained a comment from the Kansas State Department of Education’s director of child nutrition and wellness. Cheryl Johnson said that after the release of the “We Are Hungry” video, the Kansas schools experienced a 5% drop in lunch purchases, but by the end of the school year, the decrease was down to only 3%.

The high school students’ humorous, inoffensive parody was devoid of any mean-spiritedness, and did not thrust a political agenda upon its viewers or disrespect First Lady Michelle Obama, whose “Let’s Move!” initiative drew widespread criticism from conservatives. Once again, creative thinkers demonstrated the power of art to change hearts and minds. Next time, Childhood Obesity News will look into a bit of the backstory of the state where such an unusual event could take place.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Lawyer Up, Kids: Candy, Chips and Soda Are Kicked Out of School,” LA Weekly.com, 06/27/13
Source: “We Are Hungry,” youtube.com, 09/17/12
Source: “Why Some Schools Are Saying ‘No Thanks’ to the School-Lunch Program,” Time.com, 08/29/13
Image by “We Are Hungry”

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