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School district is ready to dump kids’ junk food – are we ready to follow?

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture

The Los Angeles Unified School District is poised to do away with flavored milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, and other calorie-laden fare in favor of more natural and low-fat food. These foods often contain additional dubious additives, such as artificial flavors, colors and sweeteners.

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Chocolate and strawberry milk are the prominent offenders. Meats are often heavily processed with batters and hydrogenated oils. Inexplicably, high fructose corn syrup frequently lurks in recipes that do not even taste obviously sweet. One is left to wonder whether the powerful corn lobby has not had something to do with the presence of the product on virtually every American supermarket shelf. It is clearly implicated in the skyrocketing rate of Type II Diabetes in adolescents.

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On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School District decided, in a 5-2 vote, that L.A. public schools will no longer offer flavored milks as part of an effort to curb childhood obesity. The board decided on a five-year contract that will continue to offer low- and no-fat milks. Officials added soy milk and Lactaid options, but gave strawberry and chocolate milks the boot.

The district also vowed to offer more vegetarian options and to phase out fried and breaded items such as corn dogs and chicken nuggets.

The LAUSD’s move is a step in the right direction in helping kids hold on to the vestiges of a healthy lifestyle in American adolescence. Between the TV, the car, and endless school hours spent sitting behind a desk, the last thing a child needs is empty calories in low-nutritive food. About one in three American children are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 1980, obesity prevalence in people ages 2 to 19 has nearly tripled.

Sugar, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, is increasingly understood to play a pivotal role in childhood and adolescent obesity. It is also highly addictive – the more it is consumed, the more it is desired. Children’s taste preferences are hijacked by artificially sweetened or sweet-enhanced foods. Not only do the kids’ palates habituate to the intensified sweetness, but they come to EXPECT and want foods to taste sweeter. In short, they are conditioned away from enjoying food in its natural state.