Sunday, August 22, 2010

Potpourri: School Food News Roundup

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

For the third year in a row, adults polled by the University of Michigan rank obesity as their top health concern for children, just ahead of drug use and teen pregnancy. But adults have a hard time recognizing obesity in their own children and changing the behaviors that lead to obesity appear even harder.

Forty percent of the 2,064 adults surveyed put obesity at the top of their list of concerns. Among blacks, though, smoking was the biggest worry, and among Hispanics the top concern was drugs.

Meanwhile, the most obese kids keep getting fatter, and a faster rate than everyone else.

Overall measures of body mass index, waist circumference and triceps skinfold thickness in kids have been steadily increasing in the last 10 years. But new research published in the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity finds that the biggest increases occurred in the fattest 20 percent of children. The bigger measurements--especially in waist size--were most pronounced in black girls and other ethnic groups.

Researchers said the racial disparities became more pronounced over time, especially between black girls and white girls.

A study scheduled for publication in the journal Pediatrics finds that black, Hispanic and American Indian girls are two to three times more likely than white girls to have a high body mass index. And while obesity rates for Hispanic girls peaked in 2005, they continue to rise for black and American Indian girls.

The study found that overall, 38 percent of kids were overweight, 20 percent obese and 3.6 percent "severely obese." Boys, as a rule, were more likely than girls to have a high body mass index for their age.

Not helping is a growing price gap between healthy foods and junk foods. A study at the University of Washington finds that foods like fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grain products keep getting more expensive compared to "nutrient-poor" food containing lots of fat, sugar and refined grains.

Between 2004 and 2008, the researchers found, the most "nutrient dense" foods increased in price by nearly 30 percent, while the grocery story price of the least nutrient dense 20 percent of foods increased by only 16 percent. They found that the top quintile of nutrient dense foods cost $27 per 1,000 calories, compared to just $3.32 per 1,000 calories for the bottom quintile.

Sill, about 1 billion of the world's people obese, about 1 billion are hungry at the same time. How can hunger and obesity exist side-by-side?

Blame it on an increasingly consolidated industrial agriculture system that turns on more and more cheap, non-nutritious food. Our federal government underwrites the price of a Big Gulp soda by subsidizing the corn that goes into making the high-fructose corn syrup that sweetens the soda.


Proposed legislation in San Francisco would attack the obesity problem by limiting toy giveaways to kids at fast food restaurants to meals that meet strict nutrition guidelines and contain at least some healthy food.

The bill, apparently the first of its kind in a major metropolitan area in this country, would prohibit toys with meals containing any one item with more than 200 calories or 480 milligrams of salt. An entire kids meal could have no more than 600 calories.

The restrictions would wipe out all but a handful of "Happy Meal" offerings at McDonald's, and leave none that contain a even a small hamburger. Meals that come with toys would also be required to contain a serving of fruit or vegetable.


But at least one jurisdiction is moving in the opposite direction. Schools in Licking County outside Columbus, Ohio, have decided to ditch meals cooked from scratch and instead buy pre-packaged re-heat meals from Preferred Meal Systems.

School officials said the move will save money because fewer skilled staff will be needed to serve meals made in a factory and shipped frozen. A regional sales director for Preferred Meal Systems said many of the 28 Ohio schools districts and charter schools that signed new contracts this year were motivated by saving money.

"No one is making anything from scratch any more," said Jolene Rellinger. "We're not doing anything different than a normal school district. We're just doing it in our own kitchen."

But some parents wonder: Just how do you get fresh, local vegetables in those pre-packaged re-heat meals?

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