Fast food restaurants are all around us. In urban areas, you can’t go more than two blocks with passing one. What I didn’t realize was how much fast food my generation consumed until I got to high school. Within a three-block radius of my high school there were two pizzerias, three delis, a McDonalds, a Subway, and a Burger King. It was easy to walk around the street and indulge in these tasty meals. It was a lot better than the mediocre food they served in the cafeteria. What I wish I knew then was that fast food was too good to be true. An hour after a delicious lunch I would return to class tired, barely able to keep my eyes open. It took me a week to realize that the fast food was the problem. It would make me feel good for a while till it made me crash an hour later. This is only one of the short-term side effects of eating fast food. Others include indigestion and heartburn, moodiness, and poor memory and concentration abilities. If this was happening to me then image what it is doing to kids half my age.
Unhealthy diets are just one of the reasons why nearly 32% of children in America are overweight or obese. Childhood obesity is now the No. 1 health concern among parents in the United States, topping drug abuse and smoking. (*site*) The commonness of disease in children has more than tripled from 1971 to 2011. (*site*) Many factors, including genetics, environment, metabolism, lifestyle, and eating habits, are believed to play a role in the development of obesity. (3) Childhood obesity in America is a growing disease that has become an epidemic that leads to serious health conditions.
For a child to be considered overweight or obese he or she must be “A weight that is higher than what is considered a healthy weight for a given height.” (4) Doctors use something called A Body Mass Index, or BMI to determine if a person is an unhealthy weight. Being overweight or obese can cause serious health risks, especially in children and teens. Obesity predisposes children to type two diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, liver disease, and reproductive dysfunction. Furthermore, being obese as a child can lead to cardiovascular disease when they reach adulthood. (3)
Growing up I was lucky enough to have parents that had the money and the time to make my brother and I home-made lunches. My lunch usually included a whole wheat sandwich with ham and cheese, two pieces of fresh fruit, and a bottle of water. Unfortunately, some parents just don’t have the time or money to spend on bagged lunches five times a week. Instead, their kids have to rely on their school to provide breakfasts and or lunches. This would not be such a terrible thing if the foods provided by schools were healthy. The federal government has a variety of rules and regulations that apply to school lunches. These mandates are designed to make sure that healthy lunches are available in school, but in reality, what ends up on a child’s plate isn’t always nutritious. An unhealthy meal or two won’t have a permanent impact on a child, but eating unhealthy lunches for years can take a seriously negative toll on both mental and physical health. (*site* 21) Unfortunately, many schools are faced with numerous obstacles when trying to improve unhealthy meals. One obstacle is money, more importantly government funding. Schools receive $2.68 for each free meal served through the National School Lunch Program, a federal meal program. (*site* 20) That $2.68 must not only cover a child’s meal but also labor and facilities. Additionally, schools are mandated to use part of the money for milk purchases. With so little money left over from federal funding, schools don’t have nearly enough left over to make a significant difference. Another obstacle to addressing the problem is that some schools have given contracts to food management companies. “Cory Schreiber, Culinary Instructor at The Art Institute of Portland, says the contracts amount to one of the biggest changes to school lunches. It’s also one that can cause more problems.” (*site*20) These companies have 100% control over the quality of the food and price they sell it at. The quality of the food suffers in order for companies to make a profit from charging schools less than three dollars to make each meal. These are just some of the major obstacles schools face trying to implicate healthier meal options.