May 7, 2012
This paper is focused on comparing the role the school system plays in the detrimental diets of today’s youth and the changes in food options over the past three decades. The demand for school snacks has increased and the supply has become increasingly careless. Parents today rely more heavily on school to provide their child with meal options than they did 30 years ago. Some may argue that schools are not to blame but the evidence is clear; childhood obesity is on an incline that directly correlates to the rise in school-snack availability. Over the past three decades, this newly established “culture of snacking” is a very lucrative business for the food service industry and the schools alike but unfortunately has contributed largely to the subsequent obesity epidemic facing children today.
According to Economic Perspectives Magazine, obesity has skyrocketed over the past thirty years, nearly tripling since 1980. (Anderson, Patricia M., Sept. 2003, p. 4). This is disconcerting and brings to light on an obvious distinction between the culture in schools during this timeframe. In 1980, schools did not have the abundance of unhealthy snacks as they do today. Snacks, if they were encouraged at all, were more readily homemade which leant itself to be a healthier option. Trans fats were not a common concern in 1980. “ … ‘Thirty years ago, there wasn't any concern about trans fat or sodium. Now, we don't have any foods without trans fats,’ said Adam Carlson of Metz and Associates, who operates the school kitchens in 60 school districts across the region, including the Tuscarora School District." (York Newspaper Company, Sep 20, 2010). Trans fats, sodium and sugar have become a rampant part of today’s child’s diet. Many factors contribute to this societal phenomenon, the least of which could be the introduction of vending machine foods in to public schools over the last 30 years. Children enjoy sugary and fatty snacks far more frequently than their thinner, healthier predecessors. Someone questioning whether such a simple thing as the introduction of snacks has truly impacted childhood obesity should take a look at the food and beverage industry’s financial gain since 1980. Schools are catering to their student’s want for unhealthy snacks by making them profusely abundant and gaining financially in the process. “A study by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that about $2.3 billion worth of snack foods and beverages are sold annually in schools nationwide. Nutritionists say that school vending machines stocked with potato chips, cookies and sugary soft drinks contribute to childhood obesity, which has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about one in every five children is obese.” (The New York Times, 2012, p. A 6). Children are being targeted by marketers and conglomerate food service industries that are interested in capitalizing on a child’s impulsive want for junk food. At school, an institution where the children are a completely captive audience, they are being tempted continuously with high-processed foods – low in nutritional value, but not in calories.
Younger children are being targeted as part of marketing plans to sell more products. As this trend continues, obesity becomes more of a problem for this age group. “[Today] nearly half of elementary school children can buy junk food at school, a trend that contributes to the childhood obesity epidemic and underscores the need for federal regulation of school snacks … ” (Washington Post Company, Feb 7, 2012). With half of today’s children purchasing junk food at school, it is no surprise that obesity is becoming more and more of a problem for students.
Moreover, children today are receiving more of their meals, and consequently calorie intake, from the schools’ meal options than children 30 years ago. Today it is common