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Should School Lunch Be Regulated? - Facts & Infographic

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School lunches provide students with an important part of their daily nutrition, energy, and brain power. While many children around the world pack their own lunches to bring to school, many more consume hot lunches provided by their schools. 

Growing children need a well-balanced diet to prevent malnutrition and promote proper brain development. In addition to affecting their bodies, diets affect a student's learning ability. US President Lyndon B. Johnson took major steps in national lunch regulations, explaining, “Good food is essential to good learning.” According to a study in Britain, students who ate healthy school meals were 3.4 times more likely to focus on their studies than other kids. In Bangladesh, children who received fortified biscuits as part of their school meals secured 16% better scores than those who did not.
 
School lunch regulations attempt to solve two main dietary problems on opposite ends of the spectrum: malnutrition from not having enough food, and malnutrition caused by eating an unbalanced and unhealthy meal.  
 
Why School Lunch?
 
During times of economic crisis, the amount of food available is often the largest problem for school children – a problem the United States worked to fix with its federally-funded lunch assistance programs after the Great Depression. Lack of adequate food continues to be a major concern for children in many parts of the world. In some of these places, free lunch can be an incentive for children to attend schools. 
 
Across the world almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes each day, which adds up to about one child every eleven seconds. According to 2010 statistics, 70 million children get no education. School lunches provide great incentive for impoverished families to send their children to school. In countries such as Bangladesh, offering school lunches has increased school attendance by 35%. In sub-Saharan Africa, schools noted an increase in enrollment of at least 22% by offering school meals. In India, girls are 30% more likely to complete school education in villages where school lunches are offered.
 
In the United States and several other nations, however, the issue eventually shifted from children going hungry to children being overfed and unhealthy. Instead of minimum calorie requirements, the government recently moved to enact a maximum calorie limit as well. The problem is no longer the lack of food, but instead the lack of nutrition and obesity. With shifting needs, school lunch regulations must shift as well. School lunch regulations in the country aim at reducing dietary imbalance in the country among the 31 million kids who eat at school.
 
Many issues are being resolved at the local level, but do we need national or worldwide regulation of school lunches? While nutritional needs for children around the world remain the same, the issues faced in each country or region vary, and specific regulations would be difficult to create on a global scale. 
 
School Lunch and Nutrition
 
Is national or global regulation too expensive for governments to handle, or will the alternative be even more expensive in the long run? Critics argue over the high cost of eating right, but the health problems and long-term effects of eating unhealthy foods may end up being even more costly. “A healthier population will save billions of dollars in future health-care costs,” said Dawn Undurraga, from the US-based Environmental Working Group.  
 
In India, iron deficiency was reduced by up to 30% with the initiation of school meals. In Britain, absences due to sickness were reduced by 14% with the introduction of healthy school meals.
 
According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17% of American children ages 2 to 19 are obese, and another 16% are overweight and at risk of becoming obese. Another report from the CDC showed that more than one-third of high school students ate vegetables less than once per day, far below the recommended levels for a healthy lifestyle.  
 
UNITED STATES
 
National School Lunch Program 
In 1946, President Harry Truman established the National School Lunch Program, made into US Federal law, providing free school lunches to qualified students, based on family income. These lunches are paid for by government subsidies, and also provide food to students throughout the summer with the Summer Food Service Program.   
 
In 2007, the NSLP served 30.5 million children daily, with a cost of $8.7 billion for the year. These lunches were served in over 101,000 schools, both public and nonprofit private facilities. 
 
During the 2010-2011 school year, over 23 million children from elementary and secondary schools were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch nationwide, which is 48% of all students.  
 
Child Nutrition Act (CNA) 
The Child Nutrition Act is a law, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 11, 1966, which sought to further help meet the nutritional needs of children. The act resulted from NSLP's success, and established School Breakfast Program, which provides low cost or free breakfasts to public and non-profit private schools and child care facilities. The School Breakfast Program feeds 10 million children daily. 
 
Later reauthorizations to the act added nutrition and physical activity standards and an after school snack program. 
 
Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution 
English celebrity chef Jamie Oliver launched a campaign to revolutionize the way American children eat. Oliver traveled the country in an effort to reform school lunches, fight childhood obesity, and change eating habits to make healthier children and adults. The show premiered on March 21, 2010, but was canceled during its second season.
 
Let's Move! 
On February 9, 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama launched her campaign called “Let's Move!” The campaign works to solve the problem of childhood obesity by promoting activity and healthy eating, while educating children and families about the dangers of being overweight. 
 
MyPlate
On June 2, 2011, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released MyPlate, a new diagram to replace the food pyramid model. Rather than ranking the foods by serving size, which can be a difficult concept for many people, MyPlate teaches meal-planners to divide the meal into percentages, showing the relative portion sizes on a plate – with half the plate covered with fruits and vegetables.  
 
As part of her plan to fight childhood obesity, Michelle Obama, in partnership with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, released new federal nutrition standards for school lunches on January 25, 2012 – the first overhaul of its kind in 15 years. The new plan sought to include more fruits and vegetables, while limiting meat, grains, fat and sodium. The changes were met with both praise and criticism. 
 
Is Pizza a Vegetable?
The plan attempted to limit starchy vegetables like potatoes, and end the categorization of tomato paste on pizza as a vegetable, but Congress blocked these changes, making sensationalized headlines like “USDA says Pizza is a Vegetable.” Some critics of the new nutrition regulations cite this as one of its major flaws, blaming pressure from lobbyists from certain agricultural groups, like frozen food producers and potato farmers. 
  
Calorie Caps
There was much opposition to the calorie caps, with claims that they are too low, leaving children feeling hungry: 
 
Elementary School – 650 calories
Middle School – 700 calories
High School – 850 calories
 
The calorie cap sparked an uproar among some students who launched campaigns to boycott school lunches, turning to social media (Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube) to share their thoughts on the new lower-calorie lunches. However, they are currently permitted to receive a second serving of fruits and vegetables. Even when healthier options are available, many children opt for empty calories instead of fruit and vegetables, tossing the healthier choices in the trash. In cases such as these, education about healthy food choices and the dangers of obesity and unhealthiness is also necessary.   
 
In response, GOP representatives introduced “No Hungry Kids Act” to repeal the caloric restrictions, and suggested a snack program for student athletes.  
 
After consideration of the criticism and complaints from hungry students and frustrated administrators struggling to plan meals, the regulations were loosened. In December of 2012, USDA secretary Tom Vilsack announced the removal of limits on grains and meats in the meals.  
 
In January of 2013, a New York school district ended participation in NSLP from their schools, cutting off their federal aid for school lunches so that they did not need to comply with the federal standards for fruits and vegetables. Their arguments for ending the program were that it created more waste, as children throw away the foods they do not want, or refuse to buy the food if it is unappealing. The school district will continue to provide free or reduced cost meals to low income families, though only about 8% of its students qualify for the subsidy anyway, compared to the national average of 48% (perhaps one of the reasons the district decided to cut off the program).    
 
Another criticism of the new regulations is that they increase costs without a substantial increase in subsidies provided by the government. Eating healthier foods costs more, and if the schools' lunches are not funded, the money may come from classrooms instead.
 
AROUND THE WORLD 
 
Canada
There is no national school lunch program in Canada, though there are some programs at local levels. The province of Ontario enacted a School Food and Beverage Policy, which took effect September 1, 2011, and affects all food and beverages sold at schools, with the exception of 10 special events each year. The policy prohibits food and drinks with few essential nutrients or high amounts of fat, sugar, and sodium, and requires that foods be cooked in a healthy way.  
 
The United Kingdom 
In the United Kingdom, lunches follow several requirements to create healthy balanced diets. Meals are restricted in salt, sugar, and fat, with a requirement of no more than two portions of deep fried foods per week. Portions of fruit and one portion of vegetables are promoted each day, among a variety of other nutrient requirements. No sodas, chips, or sweets are permitted in the meals or vending machines at schools. The United Kingdom also provides free school meals to students from low income families.
 
Scotland's 9-year-old Martha Payne made international headlines for her blog, NeverSeconds.blogspot.com that documents her school lunches. Unhappy with the options, size and nutritional value of the meals, Payne rates each day's lunch on several categories including health, courses, and price. Readers around the world began sending her photos and ratings of their own school lunches for comparison.  
 
Finland and Sweden 
School meals in Finland and Sweden have been fully government funded since 1948 and 1973 respectively, following national dietary guidelines using the “plate model.” The meals are served buffet style, however, allowing students to choose their meals. 
 
France
School lunches in France include a main dish (meat, fish, eggs, offal, or cheese) a side dish, a dairy product, and either a starter or dessert. The regulations include requirements for portion sizes for each age group, though lunch in France is the essential meal of the day. Students generally must pay for their own lunches, though subsidies are sometimes available. Children are imparted taste education and allowed 30 minutes mealtime each day.
 
Japan 
The vast majority of students in elementary and junior high schools in Japan eat school lunches. The school lunch system was started during the near-famine Japan experienced after World War II. Meals are planned by school dieticians and are generally bento boxes, filled with small portions of a variety of foods including rice, soup, curry, tofu, and vegetables. In Japan over 85% children eat school lunches. Eating together is considered a form of social bonding and children even take turns at serving food.  
 
Iran
Since 1975, Iran has offered free meals with school attendance for children up to 14 years old. Meals include milk, nuts, fruit, and biscuits. 
 
Singapore
Singapore's government department, the Health Promotion Board, started a program called Healthy Eating in Schools, as an incentive program for schools to offer healthy foods, limiting sugar, fat, and deep fried food. About 87% of schools in Singapore qualified for the program's award in 2009.
 
India
India's Akshaya Patra Foundation, started in 2000, provides daily hot lunches to over 1.3 million children in 9,000 schools across India. The program is a partnership of public and private organizations with support from the US and UK. Lunches include cereals, vegetable curries or soups, and milk. 
 
Worldwide 
In places where food is scarce and people live in poverty, school lunches can be an incentive for school enrollment. School lunch programs can be a benefit for children and their families in many ways, providing nutrition as well as education for those who may not have prioritized school otherwise. Some parents may have been inclined to keep their child at home to help with chores, or taking care of other children. School lunch programs have been shown to improve school attendance as well as performance in the classroom. 
 
While government-assisted programs are not always possible in these nations, there are many nonprofit organizations that work to provide school lunches including World Food Programme and Mary's Meals, which work to feed school children around the world.  
 
Sources:
https://www.gov.uk/school-meals-healthy-eating-standards
http://www.wfp.org/school-meals 
http://neverseconds.blogspot.com/ 
http://www.yankton.net/community/article_16fb5456-9df4-5df8-bb9e-75867c39f408.html 
http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2012/pesschools10/tables/table_07.asp 
http://unpackingschoollunch.wordpress.com/the-blog/school-lunch-matters/

Should School Lunch Be Regulated.


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