Wednesday, November 12, 2008


This quarter I've been working with a professor in the College of Health and Human Services on something called the Healthy Schools Project. I named it, actually - it was just an amorphous thing we inherited from another prof . Our goal is to help local schools coordinate foodservice staff, parents, administrators, and students in order to improve the nutritional content of school lunches.

This has, at times, made me uncomfortable. Apparently the childhood obesity epidemic is the scariest thing since nuclear winter. Unfortunately, a lot of the literature I've read is along the lines of "OMG the kids are fatties here give them celery all better." I'm exaggerating a little, but the effect is similar. I agree that some cafeteria foods are crap. The so-called "pizza boat" that was available in my high school consisted of a giant slice of greasy pizza and a large sack of fries. Most people ate this with a packet of ranch dressing. They weren't obese or even overweight (most of my friends were slender), but that ain't good for anybody's arteries.

Unfortunately, the nutrition literature sometimes skims over the link between poverty and obesity. Foodservice and management writers get it - schools without much tax or state revenue sell "competitive foods" - the pizza, the Doritos, the Little Debbies. There's lots of other things mixed in, too - competitive foods have higher prestige, they're quicker to eat, they taste familiar and good. So the problem isn't necessarily going to be solved by cutting competitive foods and force-feeding kids celery sticks.

One project we're working on is posting nutritional information in cafeteria lines. I'm ... I'm not sure how I feel about this. There's the infamous NYC law that's caused a flurry all across the blogosphere. On the one hand, information is important. On the other hand, calories aren't everything (I tell myself that every day). I spoke up at a meeting last week and said I feel uncomfortable posting straight calorie counts. I don't think elementary and middle schoolers understand how to work that into a daily dietary plan - if kids are even thinking about that at all. Post information about fiber content, calcium, vitamins and minerals. Help kids choose foods that are going to nourish them - even if they have more calories! An eleven-year-old is going to do better with a turkey sandwich with cheese, tomato, lettuce, and mustard on whole wheat - which has protein, fiber, calcium, fat, and vitamins - than a side salad that might have fewer calories, but doesn't have all the other good stuff.

And I'm really trying not to let all this be a trigger.


jess said...

Every couple of weeks I re-stumble across your blog and am always so glad that I do.

You are truly and inspiration.

Really try not to let this trigger you, you've come so incredibly far. I think it's odd that they expect children to be able to understand calorie counting! Plus, even if they are able to grasp the concept of 'staying under a certain number,' does the school expect them to be mature enough to 'use' their calories on balanced meals, or will everyone run and eat 3 packs of tater tots with a pack of lil' debbies? Maybe suggest an emphasis on food groups or balanced plate visuals?

And YAY for donating blood- I really missed that; save three lives, yo!

Ashbee said...

When I was in high school (which now feels like lightyears ago, more like three or four (?) years ago)... my senior "thesis" was a project on health promotion in public schools... It may be way out of date but there was a county in TX in which the public schools switched (with the original junk-food budget) to all organic and fresh foods... It went over really well... I wish I could remember the name of the school now? :( Hope your project goes well! :)

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