Why the School Lunch Menu Can Lead to Overweight Obese Children

Here’s some research parents will want to hear about… more than one in three middle schoolers who eat off the school lunch menu are overweight obese children, and are also more likely to have high bad cholesterol levels than kids who bring a lunch from home.

It seems that efforts to make healthier choices a part of school lunch menus still have a good way to go. Earlier research in this area has examined the nutritional content of school lunches; this is the first effort to assess the impact of those lunches on kid’s eating habits (and overall health as well).

With skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity, many experts are worried about young people setting themselves up for future health problems before they’re able to understand the consequences.

The research involved 1,076 Michigan area middle school students who answered questionnaires that covered what they ate, how active they were, and the number of hours they did things like watching TV, playing video games and spending time on the computer each day.

The researchers also collected data on student weight, height, blood glucose and cholesterol levels. The subjects were then divided into three groups, depending on whether they said they always or almost always ate school lunch, always or almost always brought a lunch from home, or did either one or the other.

The kids who ate school lunch…

– Were more likely to be overweight or obese (38.2% vs. 24.7%) and had higher levels of bad cholesterol.

– Were more likely to eat two or more servings of fatty meats, fried chicken or hot dogs, each day – 6.2% vs. 1.6%.

– Were more likely to have two or more sugar-sweetened drinks daily (19% vs. 6.8%).

– Were less likely to eat at least two servings of fruits (32.6% vs. 49.4%) or vegetables (39.9% vs. 50.3%) a day.

What’s more, the kids who ate school lunch were less likely to take part in activities like basketball, or team sports than the kids who ate lunches from home.

School lunch eaters also spent more time watching TV, playing video games and being on the computer after school.

So should the parents of the estimated 30.6 million U.S. students who eat school lunch start packing one from home?

As any parent of an independent-minded middle schooler can attest, packing the nutritious foods is no guarantee they won’t be traded or tossed aside in favor of choices from vending machines or the local store. It’s better to work with your school to make lunches healthier -with less salt and fat, and more fiber.

Rather surprising that only 6% of school lunch menus currently meet the requirements established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

To help your own kids, be sure to offer healthy food choices at home. And don’t forget the exercise. This can be something as simple as walking to school or helping out with chores around the house.

You’ll also want to remember that eating patterns are especially important during the middle school years when kids start to get more independent. The choices they make during this time will shape their eating and exercising habits as they get older. Now’s your chance to help ensure those choices are healthy ones whether they eat from school lunch menu of bring food in from home.