When Obesity Meets Governmental Concern

Yale University researchers followed about 600 young students for five years and concluded that nutritional programs at their schools helped them maintain healthy BMIs. Journalist Kristen Dalli wrote,

The students participating in the study saw only minor increases in their BMI, with an average increase of just one percent. Students who attended schools without these health initiatives experienced an average BMI increase of about three or four percent.

Success is attributed to “nutrition education and promoting healthy eating behaviors in the classroom and cafeteria.” That promotion included sending nutrition info newsletters home; requiring school-prepared meals to fit nutritional criteria; teaching kids to choose healthier alternative foods; and urging parents to teach their children how to read the nutrition information from labels.

How much real muscle is behind any of this? Not much, because we don’t live in a dictatorship, and there is only so much that schools can do to shape behavior. This might play out differently in areas where kids can’t afford to buy the cafeteria lunch, and are lucky to have anything to eat at all, much less a choice, and where parents are unlikely to read newsletters or package labels.

The program also advocates “encouraging students to choose water over soda or other sugary drinks.” How much is this encouragement worth, if the school still allows vending machines?

Other advice is to “cut down” on rewarding good behavior or good grades with edible or drinkable treats. Here, a recommendation to cut down seems insufficiently ambitious, because the school administration does have the power to just flat-out say no to any of that. But even so, when it comes to convincing parents to maintain the standard at home, good luck with that.

In the curriculum, to simply have a program is not good enough. The program needs to accomplish something. Dr. Pretlow says,

Campaigns and interventions that promote healthy eating and exercise may be discouraging and counterproductive. Those programs should instead educate kids as to why they overeat; how to reduce their stress, loneliness, and depression; and how to cope with life without turning to food.

Sadly, some schools still act as if the main purpose of government-subsidized school lunch is to enrich corporations. Dr. Pretlow says,

Schools are where kids spend 8 hours a day, 180 days a year, and are where food companies are aware they can hook kids on their products. For example, Domino’s Pizza contracts with many school lunch programs, and may offer schools discounts for a the purpose of getting kids to prefer (hooked on?) their brand.

Allegedly, Domino’s makes special pizza that meets government school-lunch requirements, but when kids buy the same brand outside, the ingredients are different. Companies produce low-calorie snacks for school vending machines, but the packaging looks almost identical to what’s available in the real world, so kids are basically tricked into buying unhealthful stuff when they go to a store. Graphic examples are shown in a video called “How Brands Like Domino’s Profit from School Lunch.”

Dr. Bill Frist, who specializes in heart and lung transplants, is “intimately familiar with how unhealthy habits that start at a young age can quickly become dangerous.” He wants to see better early childhood education on nutrition, and more emphasis on physical activity, along with programs that provide children with healthy meals.

Having served two terms as senator representing Tennessee, he is concerned about national security. Dr. Frist recently wrote:

Earlier this fall, Mission: Readiness, a group of 750 retired generals and admirals, published a new report, titled Unhealthy and Unprepared, showing that obesity is now a leading reason why 71% of young Americans are ineligible to serve in the military… And it’s already having an impact, with obesity rates cited as a major reason why the Army was not on track to meet its annual recruitment goals as of September 2018.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Nutrition programs in schools found to reduce obesity,” ConsumerAffairs.com, 12/18/18
Source: “How Brands Like Domino’s Profit from School Lunch,” YouTube.com, 11/14/18
Source: “Has Childhood Obesity Become A National Security Threat?,” Forbes.com, 12/19/18
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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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