This change smells funny

Recently it was announced (with much fanfare, I might add), that changes were being made to the new school lunch guidelines. Now, for anyone who knows me at all, or has read more than a handful of my posts, you know that I’m not a big fan of the changes. I’ll let you read for yourself as to why.

Empty trays and empty bellies...but don't worry, the garbage cans have been full!

Empty trays and empty bellies…but don’t worry, the garbage cans have been full!

So when I read about these new changes, I was excited that we were making headway, that the USDA was starting to see reason and our children were no longer going to be used as diet guinea pigs and be paraded around as some science experiment. I think I celebrated a little to early.

First of all, let me reiterate that I am not unhappy with ALL of the new school lunch guidelines. I love the idea of new menus, trying different things and encouraging fresh fruits and vegetables. I really, really do.

Yet, I have major issues with limiting calories for growing bodies, mandating that every school charge for seconds and limiting the amounts of proteins and grains that can be served.

The changes came in the order of a letter from Sec. Vilsack, announcing that for the remainder of the school year, limits on protein and grains would be lifted. Yay! Right???

Not so fast.

The problem truly lies within the limits on calories, which is not lifted. And the release of grains and proteins is only temporary, to allow schools time to adjust their menus and find vendors that can supply these new meal requirements.

On the heels of this “announcement” of change, comes an article from the New York Times. It states that “After decades of rising childhood obesity rates, several American cities are reporting their first declines.” Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Except when you read the article, you notice a few problems.

For instance, the fall in obesity in children in New York City was recorded from 2007 to 2011. Wait a minute…our kids were getting healthier before school lunch was changed? The decline in Los Angeles was from 2005 to 2010. And the decline was contributed to things like giving healthy tips during school, not putting the students on a nation-wide diet.

Yet my twitter feed is full of agencies and groups claiming that the new guidelines are already showing improvements, taking credit for the drop in a rate that was already dropping all on its own…without calorie caps and protein limits.

So why am I leery about the changes? Because if you read the actual announcement, you’ll quickly learn that it’s very temporary…and it’ll be very hard to implement. Yes, a school can ignore the limits on protein and grains for the rest of the school year, but they cannot ignore the calorie cap.

School lunch release

It’s kind of like giving a kid an allowance of $5 per day, instructing them that if they want to keep getting their allowance every week, they can only spend $25 for the whole week (we’re working within a school week here). But, for a limited time, they can buy all they want…as long as they don’t spend more than $25 per week.

Doesn’t matter how it’s worded, the child is still stuck spending only $25, unless they want to give up their allowance for the next week.

Try again, USDA…you can do better.

Our kids aren’t as fat as you think

Whoa. That’s quite the title for a blog post, isn’t it? Here are some other versions I tossed around, “How to make research fit your agenda,” “Misleading the public: Our way or the highway,” “It’s only a few percentage points…who’s gonna notice?”

So, what’s my point? I’ve been reading and researching the 81 pages of the new school lunch guidelines. I’ve read the comments left, I’ve read the “White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity” report. I’ve started to have dreams regarding statistics…and I hated statistics in college. Hated.

What did I learn? I learned that although the powers that be keep using the number “1 in 3” as the percentage of obese kids in our country, well, that number isn’t right. In fact, we’re off by quite a ways. How far? Try about 14%, give or take.

Everywhere you look, you’ll read the statistic that 1 in 3 children are obese. In my mind, that means roughly 33.33%. Again, I wasn’t a math major, so if I’m wrong, please correct me. (And no, I don’t mean just take it out a few more decimal places. 😉 ) What if I tell you that the number is actually closer to 19%? Would that matter?

Well, that’s the truth.

This is percentage of high school students obese, according to the CDC.

Here, read the CDC’s stats directly from their page: “The percentage of children aged  6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.” (The number in the White House report bounces between 17% and 19.6%, depending on which graph you want to look at.)

So how can they get away with it? Simple. It’s a matter of word choice. In the above report, the next line reads, “In 2008, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.” It goes on to explain that “overweight” is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors. Obese is defined as having excess body fat.

So, when someone is making a statement, or a report, or a news conference, it’s just more newsworthy if you drop the “overweight” part off and leave it as “obese.” But the two terms are not interchangeable. There are so many factors that can weigh in on a child’s weight, not just activity level and diet. What about injuries? What about stress? What about extending health issues?

What causes an overweight child? Here are a few examples: Imagine a high school student, very active, with an injury that requires months of rehab. They continue to eat as they’re used to, but realize they need to make some diet adjustments once they start noticing a few pounds being added on. The pounds drop again once activity is resumed.

Or what about a teenage girl, just transitioning into her cycle. Weight fluctuates greatly, revolved around hormones and other things that occur as the body makes great changes. Same is true for boys as they hit puberty.

No, an overweight child is nothing to scoff at, but it’s also not something to legislate for…it’s a natural occurrence in the life cycle.

But obesity, well, obesity is a little different. And although we do need to take steps to make improvements, the majority of the differences need to be made at home. And that’s not a place where legislation reaches…at least, not yet.

By law, we are not required to buy fruit. By law, we are not prohibited from purchasing soda. By law, we are not limited to the number of times pizza can be served as a meal.

As parents, we need to make the right decisions for our children, that includes after the bell rings.

If we truly want to drop the obesity rate in our children, we can’t expect cuts to the school lunch program to be the smoking gun. School lunch was never the root of the problem.

But we also can’t go around making changes, touting stats and bending the information to fit our goals. Some may not take the time to read the fine print, but when you get caught using misleading numbers, I start to question the rest of your agenda as well.

I applaud the new fruits and increased use of vegetables in our school lunches, I love the new recipes and new twists on the old-standby’s. Yet calorie caps and protein limits will not succeed to achieve a goal that’s been misquoted in the first place.

Can we work together to make real change?

School lunch: NOT the key to obesity

If anyone has been paying attention lately, there’s been some big changes announced regarding schools and the hot lunch program. It wasn’t anything done locally, so don’t take your school board to task on it, but it was done at the federal level…and I think that they definitely need to hear about it.

I don’t want to be stirring a pot here, but first of all, I think we all can fully agree that the school lunch program is in NO way responsible for the obesity issue in our children. In fact, I just heard another commercial yesterday that made the claim that school lunch is one of the only places where children receive a balanced meal (free, if they qualify).

So which is it? Is our school lunch a great, balanced meal, or is it making our children obese?

First of all, if we’re looking to blame schools for our weight issues, then we better not look at the lunch program and look instead at the rest of the day. Physical education, sports, dance, etc…all sorts of extracurricular activities and physically-demanding activities are being ignored and are losing numbers every year. Hours of homework take place of playing outside after school.

But again, aside from the homework demands, most of the influence on physical activity must come from the parents, not the school.

So let’s go back to the lunch issue. I’m all for expanding our children’s palates. I’m all for offering up greens, and reds, and pinks, and oranges, and browns. Pick a color, any color. Go for it! But there is so much that I don’t agree with.

For example, the calorie limit and how it’s set. I think it’s pretty obvious, but perhaps we need to spell it out. Children’s needs are different. I know, shocking revelation, right? But let’s look at that.

Scooter, 8, and EJ, 5, definitely do NOT eat the same sized meals!

Take for example my soon-to-be kindergartener who is about 46 inches tall and weighs about 50 pounds, he needs a lot fewer calories and a smaller serving size than my 8-year-old who is 61 inches tall and weighs 105 pounds; yet they’ll be served the same meal, same portion.

Another bit of ridiculousness: no more leftovers. Meaning that if the school cooks too much spaghetti on day one, the spaghetti cannot be offered again on day two. Unless it can be salvaged into another meal, it’s wasted. I guess I shouldn’t expect a government that’s full of waste to use resource-saving methods, but cutting out leftovers? I’m not sure that’s where our energy should be focused.

The change that is going to make the biggest impact on our household will not be the increase in the cost of school lunch, the changes to the meal plans or the increased color palate of the food…no, the biggest change will be purely monetary.

Seconds will no longer be offered at no cost to those that need a little more to tide them over through the day. And it doesn’t matter if you qualify for a free lunch or not, every child is charged the same. Apparently if we’re going to feed our children excessive amounts of food at lunch in school, then it’s only fair if we only overfeed those that can afford to seek professional help to lose the weight, right? Sorry, that wasn’t very polite of me.

The one who will feel the pinch the most from the new plan will not be just the student, or the parent hearing the complaints. It will be the teacher that is dealing with lethargic, hungry children who are counting down the minutes until they can head home and gorge themselves on whatever they find in the cupboards. But don’t worry, I’m sure it’ll be kale and collard greens and carrots.

Although a package of M&M’s has every color in it, too.

Trust me, I have a lot more to say about these changes…but will revisit this in the future. For more information on the changes, you can read the rules here. I will add other links as I come across them.

Pinke Post: 3 School Lunch Solutions w/ Linky

chrischinn: Does Your Child Fit the “One Size Fits All” Lunch Program?

Life on a Kansas Cattle Ranch: School lunch is not make our kids fat!

whatthehellmichelle: Concerned Mother Sheila Ressler from North Dakota

Slow Money Farm: Are all children the same? Why are lunches?

Crystal Cattle: Raising a family without meat

GOODEnessgracious: Shame

Morning Joy Farm: School lunch soapbox

Our Little Place on the Prairie: School lunch changes – Are kids getting all they need?

This Farm Family’s Life: The Great School Lunch Debate…