The COE is the “complex obesogenic environment” in which the paramount complicating factor currently is the pandemic that keeps people anxious, frustrated, and sometimes almost immobile. Lack of exercise messes up adults and children alike, and in America, millions of children are also being hurt by changes in how and what a federal nutrition program offers them.
Through no fault of their own, a lot of kids changed their eating habits when schools closed or went part-time. As the government loosened up previous rules about how and what America’s less prosperous youth are fed, officials had to scramble to figure out a logistical nightmare.
Journalist Sam Bloch explained,
Some of the waivers loosened requirements around congregate feeding, and gave schools permission to run socially distanced pick-up sites in parking lots and on sidewalks, or enlist idled bus drivers to deliver meals to homes and community centers…
A much-applauded change allowed schools to serve free meals to all children, regardless of where they lived, their income status, or what school they attended.
All good, but there was a not-so-good trade-off — a reduction in quality that could not be avoided. Many factors contribute to this, including uncertainty. From one day to the next, no one knows what disaster or hitherto undiscovered danger will affect the ability of people to move around freely.
For schools to adhere to the fresh food rules might be impossible simply because the food isn’t being harvested, processed, or shipped. Or if the food is available, all kinds of circumstances can dictate how many children show up each day at the distribution points. Produce only stays fresh for so long, and an enormous amount of expensive waste could take place if the people in charge of ordering guessed wrong.
Rules? What rules?
Also, all that stuff about fruits and veggies, whole grains, limited salt, etc., just went out the window. The schools have enough problems, and it’s still better for America’s children to have something than nothing. Rules were rescinded — and not just for the temporary emergency.
The author notes that “the Trump administration hasn’t just issued waivers that free schools from nutrition guidelines. It’s permanently overturned restrictions on sodium and the fat content in milk, and loosened whole-grain requirements.”
There are less cooking and more distribution of frozen and shelf-stable edibles. So, instead of starvation, we have an ever-decreasing amount of true nutrition going into children, whose bodies respond by adapting to the obesogenic diet and lifestyle.
One thing that matters here is the ability of grownups to make it to the distribution point, and their need to take home several days’ worth of supplies if at all possible. Another is that the problem becomes self-perpetuating. As Bloch clarifies,
When kids stop showing up, their budgets start to shrink; as budgets shrink, schools are less able to offer high-quality food or innovative pickup and delivery options.
Additionally, many schools apparently had not yet gotten around to refitting their facilities to switch from heat-and-serve meal preparation to actually cooking fresh ingredients from scratch — and now with this relaxation of standards, it is unlikely that they ever will.
It is well known that in “normal” times, kids gain inappropriate amounts of weight in the summer, and often are lucky enough to shed it during the school year. The pandemic year has been described as the “endless summer,” and not in a good way.
Schools have never been closed this long, and this extended period of heightened food insecurity may result in changes that no one can foresee. Still, it’s likely that when the pandemic ends, schools and communities will need concerted efforts to counter the obesity trends that worsened while students were stuck at home.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “The childhood obesity crisis started before Covid-19,” TheCounter.org, 01/19/21
Image Adrian Sampson/CC BY 2.0