School Lunch Program Promotes Obesity

school lunch

School Lunch Program Promotes Obesity

The federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was supposed to promote healthy eating.  But it seems to have the opposite effect. 

When Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, it may have gone too far.  According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the law not only tackles hunger, it promotes obesity.

The goal of the act was to provide nutritious food in federal lunch programs to promote healthy eating.  But it seems to have had the opposite effect.

Because of strict limits on fat and calories, students in many schools complained bitterly about the new dietary restrictions.  They claimed the food left them hungrier than ever.  But in a paper titled “Challenging School Food Policy: Why New Nutrition Standards for School Meals are at Odds with Nutritional Science” (not yet published), Johns Hopkins researchers say over the long haul the legislation sets kids up for obesity.

The new rules require schools to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables offered to students in school meals – both breakfasts and lunches.  It also requires breads and cereals to consist of 51% whole grains.  It imposes strict calorie limits on meals.  And it restricts saturated fats to less than 10% of meal calories. That means only skim or 1% milk can be served.

In other words, the rules require schools to serve high carbohydrate, low-fat meals to children.  That, say the researchers, may also be perpetuating eating habits linked to obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases.

The high-carb, low-fat diet in school is the same failed plan the government has foisted on Americans for more than 30 years.  Since 1977 the USDA and other government agencies have stubbornly disregarded the science and conducted a deadly nutrition experiment on Americans.

Since the government first endorsed the high carbohydrate diet for the whole country, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled.  Now that school meals can account for more than 50% of a student’s daily calories, and over 30 million children participate in school breakfast and lunch programs, the obesity problem is not likely to get better any time soon.

The Johns Hopkins researchers found that in schools where the regulations have been implemented, meals contained over 54% carbohydrates.  The majority of those carbs were processed.  Many of the required foods like fruit consisted of sugary canned fruit, fruit juices, and sugary flavored milk.  Those processed carbs are more easily converted to sugar and raise insulin levels that can lead to weight gain.

And the new regs continue to perpetuate the federal government’s demonization of fat.  Bureaucrats haven’t caught on yet that low-fat foods lead to weight gain and some high-fat foods help with weight loss.

At the same time the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans turn a blind eye to sugar.  They suggest healthy eating can include up to 25% of daily calories in sugar. The researchers noted that the regulations mention “fat” hundreds of times but make NO mention of carbohydrates or added sugars.  And processed carbs and sugars are huge contributors to the obesity epidemic, diabetes, and cancers.

Government Reverses Course on Dietary Cholesterol

At the time the USDA announced the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans many voices in the natural health community raised an alarm.  Sally Fallon Morell, President of the Weston A. Price Foundation, enumerated “grave concerns” about the guidelines.

She described the low-fat, low-cholesterol, high-fiber, low-salt regimen imposed on school children as a “puritanical diet” that is impossible for anyone, let alone children, to follow over a long period of time.

And she called the government’s dietary restriction particularly tragic for children.  Chief among her concerns was the restriction on dietary cholesterol.  Children need cholesterol for optimum brain and nervous system development.  Ms. Morell associated the government’s dietary advice over the past thirty years and in particular, the lack of dietary cholesterol for children, with falling SAT scores in the U.S.

She also noted that science has established since 1937 that dietary cholesterol has no influence on blood cholesterol.

Just this week the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee which meets every five years to set the U.S. Dietary Guidelines threw in the towel on cholesterol restrictions.  After 78 years they finally conceded that dietary cholesterol has no effect on blood cholesterol levels and should be considered a nutrient of no concern.

How could the dietary guidelines be so wrong for so long?

Dietary guidelines are a creation of politics and not science. Earlier Dietary Guidelines Committees ignored scientific research.  In particular, they ignore science that validates low-carbohydrate diets for weight loss and improved health.

Instead they encourage people to eat processed carbohydrates such as cereal, rice, pasta and bread.  And they have made Americans fearful of eating real natural whole foods such as whole milk, cheese, eggs, red meat, salt, butter and full-fat yogurt. As a result, Americans stock their pantries with processed fake soy meats, vegetable oils, margarine and skimmed dairy products, all of which are depleted or completely devoid of key nutrients, such as vitamins D, A, K and choline.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee saw the light on cholesterol in food but has not abandoned the “lipid hypothesis” that cholesterol leads to heart disease.  While giving cholesterol-rich foods like eggs, shrimp, and lobster a pass, the Committee continues to condemn saturated fats and red meat.

That’s likely to cause lots of consumer confusion since just last year even a Time Magazine cover proclaimed “Eat Butter. Scientists labeled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong.”

This year in reviewing nutrition science the Committee found consistent evidence for the health benefits of more fruits and vegetables. But the evidence for whole grains was less consistent.

They also found “moderate to strong evidence” that it’s harmful to eat too much processed meats, refined grains and sugar-sweetened foods and beverages.

Whether those new guidelines will make their way into the schools any time soon remains to be seen.  But no matter how healthy you make the food, the Johns Hopkins researchers found that kids may not eat it anyway.

The researchers observed 274 children in kindergarten through second grade in 10 New York City public schools as they selected their lunch.

They took before and after photos of the lunch trays of the six-through-eight-year-olds.  They recorded whether the kids chose a fruit, vegetable, whole grain, low-fat milk and/or a lean protein. And then they looked at what the kids actually ate. The answer – not much.

The researchers found that while 75% of all kids chose the chicken entrée, only 75% of those kids took even a single bite of it.  And while 58% chose a fruit and 59% chose a vegetable only 24% ate a bite of their vegetables.

But the researchers found something else interesting about the school cafeteria and what children eat.  They said the environment in the cafeteria had a major impact on whether the children ate their lunches. Along with how much food the kids selected and ate, the researchers examined the noise level, supervision level, how full the cafeteria was, the length of the lunch period, and the packaging of foods.

They found that children were much more likely to finish their food if a teacher ate in the cafeteria with them. The children were more likely to eat when their food was cut up into smaller pieces and when lunch periods were longer. And more children ate their vegetables and whole grains when it was quieter in the cafeteria.  Interestingly, noise had little effect on consumption in the other food groups.

Providing healthier food for children is a worthy goal.  But it’s also important to give them the time to eat a proper meal without distractions.  Because it’s not only what you eat but how you eat it that determines health.


Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “New school meal requirements: More harm than good?.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 November 2014. <>.

Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Young children take but often barely touch healthy school cafeteria food options.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 November 2014. <>.

Article Source: GreenMedInfo

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Margie King is a holistic health coach and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. A Wharton M.B.A. and practicing corporate attorney for 20 years, Margie left the world of business to pursue her passion for all things nutritious. She now works with midlife women and busy professionals to improve their health, energy and happiness through individual and group coaching, as well as webinars, workshops and cooking classes. She is also a professional copywriter and prolific health and nutrition writer whose work appears as the National Nutrition Examiner and as Philadelphia Nutrition Examiner. To contact Margie, visit