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Playing politics with lunch

September 6, 2012
Messenger News

People get used to hearing wild assertions during an election year. However, it's still unsettling to have a candidate, a United States Congressman, no less, come out against serving school children healthier meals.

Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, schools are required to serve more fresh fruits and vegetables. They also reduce the amount of bread and condiments, and aim to serve between 750 and 850 calories to high school students.

"How bad has the nanny state gotten," King asked during a campaign stop in Fort Dodge Tuesday, "that they've got to come in, because there are some kids that are overweight, and put every kid in the school lunch program in America on a diet?"

How bad has it gotten?

According to the American Heart Association, about one in three kids and teens in the United States is overweight or obese, nearly triple the rate in 1963. Excess weight at young ages, the AHA says, is linked to higher and earlier death rates in adulthood. According to former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, "Because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents."

King said members of his constituency are telling him their kids are "starving in school" and being "rationed on calories."

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, an average teenage girl, 14 to 18, needs between 1,800 and 2,400 calories each day, and males the same age need between 2,200 and 3,200 calories daily. The Mayo Clinic recommends 1,600 to 2,200 calories for girls and 1,800 to 2,600 calories for boys.

High schoolers won't starve on an 800-calorie lunch.

Yes, kids initially aren't crazy about the new menus. And why would they be? Many of them have been raised on cheeseburgers and french fries - and even those have gotten unhealthier. According to Medical News Today, cheeseburgers 20 years ago averaged about 330 calories; today's cheeseburgers average a whopping 600-plus calories.

Still, kids aren't required to eat school-provided lunches. Parents can send a sack lunch packed with Ding Dongs and Doritos, if that's what they want to serve their children. But maybe parents should, instead, encourage them to eat the fruits and vegetables served in the cafeteria; they might be surprised to find them not only healthy, but tasty.

Despite what schools serve, kids are still free to eat any unhealthy food they want. In fact, a 2010 study by the University of North Carolina says snacking now accounts for more than 27 percent of kids' daily calories. Between 1977 and 2006, the study shows, snacking added 168 calories per day to kids' caloric intake. Many of those snacks, say the researchers, are candy, salty chips and other junk food.

The picture doesn't get much better as Iowans get older. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this year indicated that, overall, 29 percent of Iowans are obese.

At a time when Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is challenging residents through the Healthiest State Initiative to eat better, become more physically active and live longer, healthier lives, why is Rep. King upset that schools, which exist to teach, are trying to teach children eating habits with lifetime benefits?



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