Retired military leaders: School lunches threaten national security

When I spotted a headline asking whether school lunches had become a national security risk, I assumed the story was about a possible threat to children from someone poisoning the lunches.

Nope, the story was about risks to kids from eating the standard cafeteria fare. A group of retired military leaders contend that the offerings on the school trays are making kids too fat to grow up and serve their country.

According to the AP:

A group of retired military officers says high-calorie school lunches are threatening national security.

A study by the group Mission: Readiness finds that school lunches are making American kids so fat that fewer of them can meet the military’s physical fitness standards. That, in turn, is putting recruitment in jeopardy.

A report from the group, being released today, says that 27 percent of Americans ages 17 to 24 are too overweight to join the military.

One of the officers, retired Navy Rear Admiral James Barnett Jr., says many young Americans are simply too fat to fight.

The officers are pushing for passage of a wide-ranging nutrition bill that aims to make the nation’s school lunches healthier.

I used to debate this question with one of our food writers who believed that high-calorie school lunches had a big role in the childhood obesity epidemic. I felt the problem was far more likely to be what kids ate at home and how much they ate.

I certainly would like to see better school lunches and the Farm to School program is one way to do that. Farm to School brings healthy food from local farms to schoolchildren with the goal of instilling healthy eating habits.

But we could feed kids arugula, fresh fruits and yogurt for lunch every day at school and still have an obesity problem if they return home to sour cream and onion chips, gummi bears and milkshakes.

126 comments Add your comment

Momof2

April 20th, 2010
8:03 am

Check out Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. He agrees that school lunches are filled with fat and is trying to change it. He also says parents must feed their children better. No processed foods, just fresh foods. http://www.jamieoliver.com/campaigns/jamies-food-revolution

Teacher

April 20th, 2010
8:20 am

Our elementary school serves a balanced, well-proportioned meal. Our students also go to PE and recess every day. They are getting fatter because of what goes on at home. Most students eat lunch at our school, but on the few occasions they have brought it in, they were filled with honey buns, Little Debbie snacks, soda, chips etc. Let’s stop blaming schools for every societal problem.

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who to blame

April 20th, 2010
8:21 am

the federal government approved the lunches that are served now; it goes by a strict definition of what is considered healthy; now look the government is in control of healthcare; Its the carb loading that is making our kids fat. Pizza everyday will tend to make one gain weight. GA farmers produce what we can be serving in GA schools. Beans, fruits, nuts, veges, and non-processed meats could be served to provide a healthier meal for students and help GA farmers move produce.

Gwinnett Parent

April 20th, 2010
8:24 am

This is based on my elementary school aged child’s lunch.

One simple fix-Look at all of the sugar on the plate. Here’s a comparision;
Hershey Bar-24 grams of sugar 8oz bottle of chocolate milk 26 grams of sugar. Flavored milk was not an option when I was this age. It did not land me in therapy.
This does not include the frozen juice/popsicle item, which is standard with the lunch. This “fruit substitute” has more sugar than a juice box, which weighs in at approx 28 grams of sugar(correct me if I am wrong)
I would not pack 2 Hershey Bars with my child’s lunch, but the cafeteria dishes out the equivalent everyday. With all of the studies about how sugar affects performance and behavior in the classroom, why are we loading them up mid day? I would love to hear some of the opinions from the elementary school teachers about the sugar.

The sugar only touches the tip of the iceberg. Students are also able to have tater tots with their pizza. This is because tater tots are considered a veggie.

This is why my child left with a packed lunch this morning.

irisheyes

April 20th, 2010
8:26 am

Why are schools the fault of everything that goes wrong in the world?? Both of my kids eat school lunches about 3 times a week or so, and, based on their BMI, they aren’t obese. Because we eat (fairly) healthy food at home, and they get some activity every day. Let’s do this. Schools educate and parents parent. The world will go much smoother.

BTW, Jamie’s meals may be fresher, but they are not significantly healthier. My students are about to head in, but during my planning, I’ll see if I can’t track down some articles discussing the problems with his program. (Including the fact that the school system may lose some of their funding because of the meals he’s making.)

teacher in waiting

April 20th, 2010
8:35 am

How could you not agree with this? I am a huge fan of Jamie Oliver and his quest to have our schools provide healthy choices at the school dinner line. It is scary how much red tape is involved in trying to provide healthy breakfast and lunch choices, especially when you compare his nutritious, freshly-cooked food to the breakfast pizza, the 25 mystery ingredient chicken nuggets and the fries that count as a vegetable serving. Parents should be up in arms about this and demanding that the school districts start providing true healthy choices and take away the chocolate and strawberry milk, which contains more sugar than regular soda.

The one thing I would say is that if you educate the children on the benefits of healthy eating choices, they will be more informed to make better choices themselves and, perhaps, tell their parents, who are constantly serving junk food, of the benefits too. The sad thing is that it is easier and cheaper to buy processed foods that are full of stodge and preservatives than it is to buy fresh ingredients. However, eating healthy can be done on a budget and, again, this comes down to educating the public on this. Start with the children when they are young and you may have a better chance.

cherokee parent

April 20th, 2010
8:36 am

A kid eats lunch at school 180 days a year. Three meals a day x 365 days = 1095 total meals per year. School lunch in theory accounts for 16 percent of the child’s annual meal intake. Hmmm….I would put my money on the other 84 percent of what they are eating.

Teaching is worse in FL

April 20th, 2010
8:41 am

Interesting connection. I’m not sure I would disagree completely.

When I lived in Japan, all of the students ate together in class, not a cafeteria. Everyone ate the SAME thing, and it was balanced meal prepared off campus. The teachers ate with their class as well.

I have to admit, between using a bike, public transportation, and eating school lunch, I was in excellent shape when I left!

Philosopher

April 20th, 2010
8:47 am

No one suggests that schools are responsible for everything that goes wrong in the world but why do teachers think that public school processes are above scrutiny? Perhaps if teachers would quit being so defensive, they could rise to the occasion. Nutrition is a problem all over this country and schools are a place for educating…so why NOT begin educating children about healthy eating..and lunchtime is a great place to start. It’s an learning opportunity, not a blaming one. With over 10% of the population out of work, more and more crappy food is consumed because it is cheaper and filling…fresh fruits and vegetables are way out of many budgets now…wouldn’t hurt for the kids to have one decent meal a day. And…school lunches are disgusting, tastelss and unappetizing! Who in the world can eat a baked potato with no seasoning or condiments of any kind?! Even the peanut butter sandwiches are so gross I myself, a PB sandwich lover, had to spit out the one bite I took. I pack my child’s very healthy lunch every day, but I am aware that: 1. Not every parent has the time and money and 2. Not every parent has the knowledge to make a healthy bag lunch..it ain’t easy! So take an opportunity- feed them better and teach them while you do it. My kids talk nutrition and exercise all the time…and they are fully aware of how full of fat and sugar the lunches offered are…it would come as no big shock if things were to change for the better. But…I also don’t doubt for one minute that a lot of the unhealthy foods offered in school cafeterias are chosen because thay are cheaper…and since most of you don’t want to share any more of yur tax dollars, even for the kids…I don’t forsee anything changing for the better.

Teaching is worse in FL

April 20th, 2010
8:56 am

Last I checked, I had no say in how my cafe was run. I know there is an advisory board, but I certainly have no time.

Keep in mind that most nutritious food is usally more $$$. Are we all willing to pay more taxes to support more nutritous food?

Teaching is worse in FL

April 20th, 2010
8:59 am

Sorry Philospher, didn’t mean to repeat. I didn’t hit send quickly enough.

The few times I’ve moseyed through the cafe, I’ve seen kids with bags lunches trading and throwing food away. Don’t assume your child is eating it because you pack it!

DeKalb Educated

April 20th, 2010
9:06 am

Great article in Newsweek about school lunch programs in France a few weeks ago. Try to read it. In France they do eat real butter and sugar – but they dine. They also include lots of veggies and fruits. It is well balanced and tasty. It is not overly processed and blan. I know some of you may start go political on me and talk about the liberals over there but just stay on topic. They have great lunch programs. They focus on well balanced, creative lunches. They also have the children “DINE”. They have pleasant conversations during lunch and teach the children to enjoy their meal and eat slowly. Think about it – French people are not obese. They eat small portions. They do not shove food into their face and rush onto the next activity without tasting the food. It’s a thought. It wouldn’t hurt for kids to learn the joy of food, polite conversation and how to eat a balanced diet.

Maureen Downey

April 20th, 2010
9:11 am

DeKalb, At one point in my children’s elementary school career, all conversation at lunch was banned because the acting principal felt that talking kept children from eating. So, they had silent lunch every day. I am happy to report that when the school finally hired a full-time principal that was the first rule she lifted.
Maureen

Corporal Punishment

April 20th, 2010
9:13 am

If it was up to me bread and water followed by 8 laps around the school would be the daily standard to help all those obese little brats lose weight.

Lori

April 20th, 2010
9:18 am

While I agree that school lunches are pretty bad these days, they aren’t the cause of kids being fat. It’s their fat parents not teaching them healthy eating habits and all the processed crap that we put into our bodies that is making them fat.

LSH

April 20th, 2010
9:27 am

I worked in a private school where the parents decided to come together to create a “healthy” snack option for the children during their break. They didn’t like that the children were eating chips and processed cookies. That is there the fun began. None of the parents could agree on what “healthy” meant. Did it mean only home-baked goods without processed products, (are homemade chocolate chip cookies healthy?) Did it mean only fresh fruits and veggies (who would prepare them for the younger kids? These have to be purchased more often and more goes to waste) did it mean only low fat or low sugar items? (most sugar free or reduced fat items are processed to create a false sense of sweet or texture) Did it mean high protein items like meats and cheeses? (Fresh- but the vegetarian parents did not think they were “healthy”)

In the end, the kids went back to the chips and cookies because the parents could not agree on a cost effective plan on what “healthy” entailed.

Booklover

April 20th, 2010
9:35 am

Here, like many schools, we have 25-minute lunches (they count the passing period so that gets us the legally mandated half-hour). After the kids trek to the cafeteria and wait in line for food, they sometimes have less than 15 mins to eat, so they are shoveling all that junk in their mouths.

I like the idea of longer lunches, time to “dine,” and simply eliminating some of the junk. I’ve had breakfast duty, so I’ve watched as the kids ignore or throw away the more healthy items while eating all the high carb breads and sweets and sugary juices. No wonder they are sluggish and/or crazy from sugar highs. School food has way too much carbs and not nearly enough protein.

Also, kids need recess in elementary and middle school. High school lunches should be an hour long, so that kids can go outside and walk/run around/play basketball in the gym if they want to.

I’m glad that military leaders are getting on board with this, because then maybe some of the tea-bagger/right-wing/don’t-you-dare-ever-raise-my-taxes fools will be convinced that we need to spend more money on healthy lunches now, or spend A LOT more money on health care (even if we don’t have universal health care, we ALL end up paying more for medical care when people are fat and out of shape) and national defense later.

Of course, parents also need to step up to the plate and tell their kids “no” to some of the junk and sugar. It’s sad that we even have to point that out.

Philosopher

April 20th, 2010
9:36 am

@Teaching is worse in FL_ Even if she shares, I know my daughter’s NOT eating the crap offered in the lunchroom b/c she has the freedom to look at the menu and buy if she chooses…and she chooses not to. And..I know that what she eats at home is healthy…so…bogus argument.

Philosopher

April 20th, 2010
9:38 am

@Booklover: Amen, amen, amen! Yes!

DeKalb Educated

April 20th, 2010
9:41 am

Maureen, my children’s elementary (Oak Grove) once had a stoplight in the cafeteria. If someone decided it was too loud in there, the red light would come on and no one could speak. Perhaps, the construction of the 1950 bunker building had something to do with noise. “LSH”, apples can keep for weeks in a cool environment. So can carrots. My children loved carrot sticks, celery with peanut butter, brocoli with humus, cheese and whole wheat crackers, turkety and veggie wraps. The problem with obesity is not enough exericse and too much food. Cafeterias lunches only comprise less than 1/3 of a child’s food intake. The responsibility rests on the parents but so few parents take any real interests in their children – behavior, activies or food choices. If they did, they would walk them school, encourage them to leave the TV’s and computers off, have family dinners at a table, eat at tables in restaurants rather than run in a fenced in area full of plastic (very dirty) balls.

Tony

April 20th, 2010
9:41 am

The biggest problem with school lunches is the USDA and its rules/regulations for reimbursing lunches. These rules and regulations seem to be more related to farm subsidies than they are to child nutrition. As is usually the case, the school lunch program is more about money.

Momof2 mentioned the recent TV programs and I watched two of the series. Mr. Oliver ran into trouble with the rules and regulations and attempted to reveal just how absurd they are.

My recommendation is that this group of retired military people go directly to the USDA with their concerns. Schools can do very little.

Teaching is worse in FL

April 20th, 2010
9:44 am

Philosopher-didn’t mean your child, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Parents think that when they send their kids to school they are the perfect little angels they see at home. Not always.

In tough economic times people don’t have $$ to spend on fresh unprocessed food. In my house it is a priority-I’d rather spend money on fresh fruit and veggies than on health care.

V for Vendetta

April 20th, 2010
10:08 am

Tony,

Very true. Like many things we deal with in public ed., it is all about the money. However, from a more, philosophical point of view . . .

Could schools do better? Sure. Then again, so could most people in this country. Sending your child to school with a lunch can be very economical if you buy good deals on healthy food. The Kroger Value brands are very cheap (a loaf of bread can sometimes be found for $.75). They have a lot of options–which is why the Free/Reduced lunch program makes me want to puke. But I won’t get started on that.

Why is it so hard to provide children with good food, and, on top of that, why don’t people take PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for their children’s well being? I’m really getting tired of hearing about this nutrition/obesity “epidemic.” Everyone wants someone to solve the problem for them; they don’t want to accept the fact that they might be more predisposed to weight gain than someone else, so they might have to eat a bit less and work out a bit more. No, no, no, I want to do just as little work as the skinny kid and eat the same amount of candy. (I spend three hours at one park on Sat. and three hours at another park on Sun. playing with my kids. They wore me out, and, more importantly, they wore themselves out.)

Easy fix? Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

I say forget about it. The only way people will even begin to learn about nutrition and exercise is when they’re forced to–i.e., when they start dying off in record numbers due to heart disease and myriad other health problems. If people are too dumb to understand the fundamentals of eat healthy and work out = better health, then why should I give a damn about them? This “epidemic” is NOT something that should be supported by tax money or public funds. It is NOT an epidemic that is threatening those of us who eat well and work out. It is NOT an epidemic that affects our children.

Well, thanks to the new healthcare reform, I guess now it is. Sheesh.

Ed Johnson

April 20th, 2010
10:18 am

It seems much talk goes on around the elephant that’s in the room but hardly any talk about the elephant itself. Why is that?

The elephant? High Fructose Corn Syrup.
Check out “King Corn”…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDurZc5Yr6c

And more aT…
http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/kingcorn/film.html

Ole Guy

April 20th, 2010
10:19 am

Corporal, I like the way you think. The methodology may be in question, but the fact remains that a regimen of nutrition and physical training (not physical activity…too passive) is the ONLY way to achieve life-long health.

Thus far, we’ve ascribed the problem of childhood(and adult) obesity to everything and everybody, short Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the tooth fairy. While all these issues are not without merit, I see a perhaps over-riding concern.

I realize there are those who may bore easly at the notion of a return to values of yesteryear. However, the kids of earlier generations didn’t suffer from maladies formerely reserved for the aged. Meanwhile, the “aged” of today…those very kids of yesteryear…are kicking the asses of the younger gens on the basketball courts and running tracks of America. So maybe a “boring” revisit to yesteryear may be in order:

As kids and young adults of the 50s and 60s, we ate our fair share of junk food…burgers, fries, shakes…and the periodic “borrowed” bottle of hootch from the Ole Man’s liquor locker (that little act often called for some failed attempts at trickery and chicanery…but that’s another chapter in the checkered life of kids at mid-20th Century). The closest we came to technology was the clothspining of baseball cards to our bikes so that the spoke-on-card clatter would emulate the motorbikes, scooters, and cycles we would soon be terrorizing the populace with. We would ride those bikes to baseball practice, favorite fishing holes, and to simply explore the world of a much simpler time.

So what the hell happened? YOU fill in the blanks and YOU fix the problems.

TailaMarie

April 20th, 2010
10:32 am

I have heard that the elementary schools are fairly balanced but let me describe what goes on at the high school where I work.

Pizza is served every day in one line, along with nachos. In another line there are fried chicken wraps that are served with baked chip. You can also get a PB&J in that line (the premade kind full of fat).

But what is bad in the main line. Often the food is all the same color (orange). You can almost always get some form of breaded meat with a side of potatos and bread (read carbs with a side of carbs and carbs). Often the kids are allowed to order “double” and “triple” fries for lunch and slather them in ranch.
Maybe this used to be okay when our kids were much more active but now they aren’t active enough to be ingesting that many carbs. We need healther options and more physical ed!

high school teacher

April 20th, 2010
10:34 am

I will buy this study if the military can produce the statistical information on the number of would-hav-been recruits who ate school lunches and those who brought lunches from home. Do I think that the lunchroom needs re-vamping? Yes. Can you blame potential military guys’ obesity on school food? We don’t even know if they ate it.

I said it the last time we blogged on this topic, and I’ll say it again: What do you expect for $1.65?

Tony

April 20th, 2010
10:34 am

Well Ole Guy, I think you hit another nail on the head. Santa and the Easter Bunny both contribute greatly to childhood obesity. I have yet to see either of them deliver a fresh veggie assortment as part of the celebrations. The tooth fairy may be exonerated since cold, hard cash apparently has no direct link to obesity.

V – I would rather do away with the feds involvement in schools in every way including the lunch program. Too many people have been brainwashed into believing that the school lunch program provides the only nutritious meals children receive.

You also present another novel concept – personal responsibility. Wow, imagine what schools could do if that idea actually caught on.

naming the hypocrites since 1962

April 20th, 2010
10:43 am

“V – I would rather do away with the feds involvement in schools in every way including the lunch program.”

Would you also do away with the money that states receive? And if so how would you make up the lost funding?

high school teacher

April 20th, 2010
10:45 am

Maureen, I made a comment that didn’t post, tried to post it again, but got a message that I was attempting to post a duplicate comment. It’s still not showing. I am pasting the comment below to see what happens:

I will buy this study if the military can produce the statistical information on the number of would-hav-been recruits who ate school lunches and those who brought lunches from home. Do I think that the lunchroom needs re-vamping? Yes. Can you blame potential military guys’ obesity on school food? We don’t even know if they ate it.

I said it the last time we blogged on this topic, and I’ll say it again: What do you expect for $1.65?

high school teacher

April 20th, 2010
10:45 am

The blog doesn’t like what I have to say apparently…

Maureen Downey

April 20th, 2010
10:48 am

high school teacher, Your posts are out. Not sure on the duplicate comment message, but will send onto our IT folks.
Maureen

Teaching is worse in FL

April 20th, 2010
10:50 am

Ole Guy- there weren’t as many sexual predators and Walmarts around either. (I remember those days too)

I always love these good ole days references. I wish I could find the clip from The Daily Show where Jon Stewart waxes philosophically on the old days.

Teaching is worse in FL

April 20th, 2010
10:51 am

i got filtrated

Elizabeth

April 20th, 2010
10:51 am

Philospher; I am alopmst past my break time, so this will be short. The feral government runs the l unbch program. TEACHERS and administrators have NO say in what is served. Get you facts straight and blame the right people. We are NOT allowed to refuse to allow our studetns to eat what is seerved. WE HAVE NO POWER.

mystery poster

April 20th, 2010
10:58 am

How ironic. I just read that one of the reasons for the school lunch program’s inception was so that students would be healthy enough to join the military. At that time, too many young men didn’t have enough to eat and were too skinny to serve.

naming the hypocrites since 1962

April 20th, 2010
10:59 am

@ Elizabeth

Funny how teachers complain about having their planning time filled with useless meetings. Glad to see this isn’t so in your case. I do agree with you about the “feral” government though. I just hope you aren’t a language arts teacher!

Philosopher

April 20th, 2010
11:03 am

Elizabeth: I never said any such thing or blamed anyone-responded to irisheyes who wanted to know why the school’s are blamed for everything. What I said was the kids are at school- learning environment, right? Teach them how to eat right and don’t take criticism of the lunch as criticism of the teachers- jump on the teaching bandwagon, get involved instead of getting your back up b/c people are complaining about the food provided.

who to blame

April 20th, 2010
11:05 am

An example I like to use is the Hispanic studnets when they first get here they look healthy and most are trim. However, after about 3-4 months of eating our (American) food they have balloned up and can not fit in their clothes anymore, but still trying to wear them.

Kira Willis

April 20th, 2010
11:09 am

The Feds provide about 6% of funds to schools, yet the mandates far exceed that funding. So, Naming Hypocrites, I would vote for the feds to keep their money and let the schools run without it. We could do a lot better without that 6% if the school lunches are any indication of the mandates. I agree with V; schools could absolutley do better, but given all of the arbitrary guidelines and onerous rules, many schools’ hands are tied unless we tell the feds to keep their 6% and Georgia can play by its own rules and do what’s best for students.
6% comes from the Feds. 6%.

irisheyes

April 20th, 2010
11:16 am

Not defensive, just tired of being blamed for all of society’s ills. Like I said before, I will teach, and parents can parent. I really can’t do their job on top of mine, and there are more and more parents who seem to think that I can. It’s obvious that the parents who read and post on this blog care about their kids, and if I had a whole classroom full of those parents, my job would be much easier. But I have a class of 20 students, and less than half are like the parents here.

Here are a couple of links to articles I found re Food Revolution:
http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/146354
http://soulveggie.blogs.com/my_weblog/2010/04/two-articles-final-results-of-jamie-olivers-food-revolution.html
Here is also the link to the April Menu for the school system that Jamie Oliver was working with: http://boe.cabe.k12.wv.us/cnp/Current%20Elementary%20Middle%20Lunchmnu.htm

irisheyes

April 20th, 2010
11:17 am

V for Vendetta

April 20th, 2010
11:19 am

naming,

The easiest way to make up for the funding would be to privatize the system. The government has been doing a pi$$ poor job for the past century. Shouldn’t we try something else?

naming the hypocrites since 1962

April 20th, 2010
11:31 am

Yes we should. Privatizing however is not the way to go for PUBLIC education.

Meme

April 20th, 2010
11:32 am

I tried without success to convince out lunch staff that the meals they were serving were too full of carbs. We had several diabetics (children and teachers) and salad was the only alternative we had.

naming the hypocrites since 1962

April 20th, 2010
11:35 am

@ Kira Willis

Actually its a little bit more then 6%. I haven’t even added the stimulus money which enabled many teachers to keep their jobs. But my question still stands; how would you make up the lost funding?

http://www.gsba.com/downloads/FundingGaPublicSchools.ppt#7

V for Vendetta

April 20th, 2010
11:37 am

naming,

Why not? Because then the vast disparity between the Haves and the Have Nots would be exposed? Because people would come to fully understand the redistribution of wealth in this country? Because “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” would no longer be possible?

V for Vendetta

April 20th, 2010
11:39 am

naming,

” . . . which enabled many teachers to keep their jobs.”

Hard to believe that claim when thousands of teachers will find themselves out of work next school year. How’s that stimulus package really working out?

LSH

April 20th, 2010
11:39 am

@Dekalb Educated. I agree with you- and my kid eats those things as well. However, my little private school experience proves to me that not everyone would be in agreement to the proposed “healthiness” of that food.
a. Applies in a fridge- yes they stay good for weeks- but not as long as packaged and processed foods. Who washes and prepares those apples and hands them to the kids?
b. Peanut butter- it’s processed and very high in fat
c. Hummus- also high in fat and also processed if purchased and not made at home.
d. Cheese- high in fat – what is the processing part to make it fat free? Some vegan parents do not find cheese to be healthy
e. Turkey- again with the vegetarians- they don’t find it healthy.
See? It sounds easy at first- but getting everyone to agree what is “healthy” and what is not is a chore and challenge.