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Schools Do Not Offer Healthy Foods

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
Schools Do Not Offer Healthy Foods

When it comes to battling widespread child health problems like obesity and cavities, schools can help parents by providing nutritious food and drink options. Nationwide, only 33% of parents give their kids’ schools an "A" grade for offering healthy food choices. Meanwhile, 12% give their children's schools a "D" or an "F."

That’s according to a University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, conducted in May 2009. The survey measured parents’ opinions about food choices at their children’s public schools (about 67 million students).

“Parents give primary schools much better grades than they do secondary schools, when it comes to healthy food choices,” says Matthew Davis, MD, MAPP, director of the poll. “Only 1 in 5 parents gives their kids’ secondary schools an ‘A’ for healthy food, and nearly 1 in 5 parents gives secondary schools a borderline or failing grade.”

In September, Congress will reconsider the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, which will fund school food programs for the next five years. The act provides federal support for school breakfasts and lunches for low-income kids.

Given widespread public concern about childhood obesity, Congress could potentially raise nutritional standards for its programs as it reauthorizes the Act.

Ultimately, school menus are determined locally. That’s why researchers believe parents should engage their children’s schools on this issue, in order to improve schools’ nutritious food and drink options.

The University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health also found that parents who rated childhood obesity as a big problem for children in their communities gave schools lower grades for healthy food choices than did parents who did not rate childhood obesity a big problem.

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Parents' grades for healthy food choices in public schools did not differ by household income, region of the country or by race/ethnicity.

This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey conducted exclusively by Knowledge Networks, Inc, for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital via a method used in many published studies.

The survey was administered in May 2009 to a randomly selected, stratified group of parents aged 18 and older from a Knowledge Networks standing panel that closely resembles the U.S. population. The sample was then weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau.

The survey completion rate was 59% among panel members contacted to participate. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 1 to 6 percentage points.

* Try to avoid pre-packaged food (in bags, wrappers, or boxes). Even if it's labeled "low-fat", pre-packaged foods (chips, cookies, desserts, etc) usually contain more fat and salt than is healthy for kids.

* Go for fresh foods -- such as freshly made sandwiches (on whole wheat bread; low-fat cheese, if any), fresh fruits and vegetables, soups (not out of a can -- too salty), hard-boiled eggs, and salads.

* For drinks, go for water. If you want a drink other than water, go for 100% fruit juice drinks, vegetable juice, and low-fat or fat-free milk. Don't go for pop -- it has too many calories and has been strongly linked to obesity among kids.

* For treats, go for fat-free pudding, or for plain popcorn (without additives that can increase the calories and fat). You can also make a homemade trail mix out of your kids' favorite nuts, dried fruits, pretzels, and cereals -- invite your kids to get creative with a different mix each week.

* Go for variety! Try a favorite sandwich wrapped up in a tortilla or a pita, or some familiar vegetables in a new soup cooked with some lentils for protein ... everyone wins when you come up with a new recipe for school lunches.