School is a massive influence on your children. It is at school that they first interact outside of their home environment, form their attitudes and learn about diet, exercise and lifestyle among other things. While you might promote a certain standard of living and approach to life at home, how can you be sure that schools are doing enough to benefit the health of your child? Recent proposals by the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) highlight the need for rules to protect youngsters' diets at school.
Kids chomping calorie-rich snacks during break time, loading up on fries and deep fried treats during lunch, all washed down with a gallon of sugary soda. You might have sent your son or daughter to school on a macrobiotic, organic breakfast but once they're through the school gates their diets are out of your control. Thankfully, the issue of schools taking some responsibility is gathering speed, not only in the US but in other countries around the world.
With a third of kids in the US classed as overweight or obese, and no real signs these numbers are changing, the need to pay attention to pre-adult diet and activity is becoming a hot topic; one that cannot be ignored. It's no longer enough for school to pass the buck back to parents and blame them. We all need to work together. This is why, the USDA is proposing some changes:
- 200 calorie limit on snacks sold during the school day
- Foods with less than 35% of their calories coming from fat or sugar
- Limited salt in foods
- Schools to sell water, low fat/fat free milk and pure fruit juices
- Limits on sales of low/no calorie drinks during breakfast and lunch
- Promoting healthy snack foods
- Allowing variations according to different age groups, in terms of the size of a drink and also such factors as caffeine content
While schools will have time to adapt to the minimum recommendations, some schools will no doubt stick to tighter rules and regulations still. The recommendations allow for flexibility and don't cover after-school activities. So there can be great discrepancies, even between schools in the same district; but most seem to be seeing the advantages of making their students eat more healthily. There has been a general trend already in many schools to move in a healthier direction, with the USDA reporting that limits on snack foods and sugary drinks are in place in 75-80% of school districts.
As a parent what can you do? If you work hard to raise a healthy child then it's understandable that you don't want the school environment to be a zone where all your good influence is weakened. First and foremost what you need is information:
- Do you know what your child's school's policy is on snacks and drinks?
- Do you know what snacks are being offered and when?
- Are there healthy options?
- Is there an emphasis and dedicated interest to diet and nutrition at the school?
- How many snack stalls are there or vending machines?
Whatever age your child is try asking them to find out what they eat on an average day. They are learning about nutrition and they may not know that the snacks that all their peers are eating each day are setting themselves up for obesity and health problems in the future. This way you can help guide them towards more healthy eating.