Kids’ obesity rates are soaring, yet some want this sugary drink on school lunch menus
These days no subject is safe to discuss in public, no topic free of controversy. It seems as if any situation, large or small, can be fodder for a name-calling, hair-pulling. head-bashing battle. It’s exhausting.
Take the newly proposed rules by the federal government to limit the amount of sugar and lower the sodium levels in school lunches. Sounds like a good idea, right? You would think that such a move would be lauded by parents and teachers, if not by the students themselves.
The proposed policy, however, has grabbed more than its share of headlines and vitriolic commentary.
But first, let me backtrack to explain why frozen pizza and chocolate milk have aroused such a furor. Hardly draconian or unrealistic, the new USDA rules for school meals would gradually decrease sodium for the next six years, until levels are down 30% by fall 2029. Also, for the first time, the agency seeks to lower the amount of weekly added sugars to 10% of total calories, this by fall 2027. Flavored milk for younger students would be eliminated by 2025.
The intent here is to make kids eat healthier, a goal we should all agree on. And not a moment too soon, either. Childhood obesity rates have tripled in the U.S. during the past three decades, and now 1 out of 3 children is overweight or obese. You don’t need to enroll in a health class to know this leads to serious health problems, from diabetes to cardiovascular disease.
Yet, the USDA’s modest proposal has gotten some interesting pushback, much of it focused on … well, on chocolate milk. Apparently, some kids and teachers are unwilling to give it up.
“You’re wasting white milk and money,” wrote a fourth-grader, when the USDA sought public comments.
“Kids are getting dehydrated. Everyone I know likes chocolate milk. This is why chocolate milk should stay!” opined another.
Even a teacher got in on the action: “Leave the chocolate milk out of it.”
Chocolate milk, however, isn’t exactly a paragon of health. Most chocolate milk cartons have about 20 grams of sugar, twice as much as the proposal’s recommendation for no more than 10 grams of added sugar. (By the way, the American Heart Association recommends kids consume only 25 grams of added sugar in a day.)
So, what to do, what to do? Some argue that reducing or removing offending food from school cafeteria offerings guarantees only one thing: Kids will eat elsewhere or bring in their own unhealthy lunch. In other words, if you serve steamed veggies and no one eats them, does that still count as good nutrition?
This is not the first time school lunches have caused a kerfuffle. Back in the 2000s, schools and states began banning or reducing the sale of soft drinks on campus. And in 2010, a law set limits on the sodium and saturated fat in school meals. Both, I clearly remember, caused a choco-milk kind of uproar, with critics saying kids wouldn’t consume the alternatives.
The critics were wrong. The controversy was forgotten and students adapted. Now, citing new national research, the American Medical Association says that the old federal mandate has actually led to a slowdown in the rates of children and teens considered obese or at risk for obesity.
Does that mean the masses will rally around the removal of chocolate milk and sugary cereals from school cafeteria menus? I doubt it. Many of us continue to eat what we know perfectly well is not good for us.
Remember that old saying about the stubborn horse being led to water? Too true, unfortunately. It’s hard to postpone gratification, and we humans tend to live for the now.
Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.