Sunday, September 12, 2010

Potpourri: School Food News Roundup

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow cook

Here's a study that confirms what you may already have suspected: eating foods out of vending machines is not good for kids at school.

Researchers at the University of Michigan found that kids who feed from vending machines are more likely to embrace a diet that leads to obesity and chronic health problems such as diabetes and coronary artery disease. The same unhealthy foods were found in school stores and snack bars.

Could it be the sugar?

Among school children surveyed nationwide, 22 percent consumed food outside the federally-subsidized meal line in a school day. High schools are the worst: 88 percent had vending machines, compared to 52 percent of middle schools and 16 percent of elementary schools. Competitive food and beverage consumers had significantly higher sugar intakes and lower dietary fiber, vitamin B levels and iron intakes than non-consumers.

Soft drinks accounted for more than two-thirds of beverages offered in school vending machines and stores. Desserts and fried snacks were the most commonly consumed vended items among elementary school children and beverages other than milk and fruit juice were the most commonly consumed items among middle and high school students. Other frequently consumed vended foods included candy, snack chips, crackers, cookies, cakes and ice cream.

Keep in mind, this is what's being offered in schools.

"The foods that children are exposed to early on in life influence the pattern for their eating habits as adults," says lead study author Madhuri Kakarala, M.D., Ph.D., clinical lecturer of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School.

The Child Nutrition Act re-authorization pending in Congress would, for the first time, give the U.S. Department of Agriculture authority to regulate all foods sold in school, including those in vending machines, snack bars and school stores.


Here's a good question for Michelle Obama and the White House: Why is McDonald's listed as a resource for "Obesity Awareness Month"?


Schools in Montgomery County, Md., outside Washington have started displaying calorie counts in the cafeteria. Maybe they should start displaying the ingredients in all that processed food they serve as well, where it comes from, and the sugar content.


Apparently kids in New York could use a little more coaching on calories, sugar and healthful eating. A new study there shows that 40 percent of children are overweight.

In wealthier zip codes, obesity rates are actually flatlining. The worst problem is in the city's poorer areas. In the Corona section, for instance, an astounding 51 percent of children were found to be overweight.

City officials said the results are disappointing but not surprising. Childhood obesity mirrors adult obesity. "Unfortunately," said one, "there's a lot of correlation between socio-economic status and health status."


The U.S. Senate in its version of a re-authorized Child Nutrition Act would boost spending on school lunch by a meager six cents. A school official in West Texas says that's hardly enough to keep up with rising food costs.

"We are hard pressed to provide a lunch per student for what we are charging," said the food services director in San Angelo Independent School District. "I have to watch every penny."

The School Nutrition Association says that fuel costs, food costs and labor costs have all been rising faster than the federal reimbursement for school meals. The federal subsidy is adjusted annually according to the consumer price index. This year the reimbursement for lunch increased from $2.68 to $2.72, meaning the Senate's increase is barely more than what schools receive automatically.


Controversy continues to swirl around the debate over whether schools should serve flavored milk with added sugar. Schools in California are taking up the issue. And look how a "study" paid for by the dairy industry, and conducted by an industry marketing firm, has slipped into the conversation.

Parents are told that removing chocolate milk from school cafeterias will mean kids in danger of not getting enough calcium and Vitamin D. For many schools, though, its not about the nutrients but about the sugar, which contributes cheap calories they need to meet USDA meal requirements for calories in school meals.


The Federal Trade Commission has subpoenaed 50 food companies for information about how they market to children. Will the companies comply? Or is the federal government begging food corporations to tattle on themselves?

It's all part of a long effort to develop standards for market food to children. The real question might be, Why is this taking so long?


Finally, are you one of those parents who can't resist buying a package of cookies in the grocery for your kids, something you would never purchase for yourself?

A new study from the University of Iowa finds that parents too often cave when they take their kids food shopping.

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