The Grumpy Giraffe

Critiques on social and education issues

Food for thought: Obesity-obsessed school food in the US

Homer Simpson (The Simpsons) and Peter Griffin (Family Guy) are depictions of the average Joe in America: white (or “default” colour in the Simpsons, which is yellow), middle-age male living in a suburban neighbourhood with a wife and 2 kids.

Source: moviecitizens.com

What else is similar between the two of them?

They’re both fat.

Obesity in America has been a national epidemic for quite a while: more than 30% of adults and 17% of children are obese in America.

In the education- and educator-friendly culture of The Land of the Free, parents and society have branded public schools (or rather, food served in public schools) as the culprit. In a popular thread that has been buzzing on buzzfeed, the author posted photos of school food from 20 countries around the world, the United States included.

Unfortunately, the one from United States looks like this (and this is just one of the photos):

fries

The First Lady has introduced the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, which forced the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to tighten their standards on the foods being served at lunch in public schools.

But is that truly the answer?

Some schools in York Region participate in the Eco-schools Healthy Living program, where all junk food is banned on school premises. Keep in mind that Canadian schools do not provide school food to students; students are expected to pack and bring their own lunch from home.

It isn’t enough to eliminate the physical presence of junk food, though.

The reason why most children are picky is because they are not exposed to certain types of foods with a positive experience. 

Positive experiences do not necessarily mean that the child will fall in love with leek. Rather, when a caregiver, like a mother, feeds her child leek soup, and genuinely smiles and focuses her attention on the child, the child will want to copy the mother’s facial expression while eating the soup. The child learns that eating this leek soup (with this flavour) is supposed to be a positive experience, and in their age of aim-to-please, they will do their best to mimic the reactions the mother has.

Children need to be exposed to a wide variety of food as young as possible. Moreover, caregivers should not look like they are occupied with something else, such as washing dishes, folding clothes, talking on the phone, or watching TV. The child needs to know that the mother treats eating as an important issue, and so then the child will also take it as an important issue.

Many parents fall into the cuteness trap when children are infants. This is normal, but it doesn’t mean it should be condoned. Parents do not need to punish their child when they choose not to eat celery; this would make eating as a duty (even though it is), and will lessen the positivity of the eating experience for the child.

Many vegetables taste good naturally, but feel free to spice it up a little with herbs. Broccoli is one of several vegetables that has a very faint flavour, but people who eat spices heavily (or foods that have strong flavour often) would be unable to taste it. Adding some herbs (maximum 3 small shakes of the shaker to the whole pot) can help your child enjoy the natural flavour of vegetables while also being exposed to herbs.

Do not make junk foods seem as taboo as the Devil. However, do not bring up the topic of junk food, or what it is, until the child has a solid foundation about healthy food, and has acquired preference for, let’s say, vegetables over a candy cane. Junk foods can be eaten, but only in moderation. Personally, I would avoid junk food, and referencing junk food, until the child is at least in grade 5. By grade 5, children already have their own tastes and preferences that are relatively resistant to change.

One of the mistakes that most kind-hearted caregivers make is thinking that obesity has only to deal with food. This is not true. Simply dieting (or stopping eating completely) is not a healthy way to lose weight. 

Caregivers (this includes educators and parents!) should promote daily exercise. Healthy weight loss means eating healthy food and doing exercise to burn off excess fat. Kids should be shown that playing outside is the better option compared to sitting for hours in front of a screen. Parents can help do this by playing with kids actively while indoors (having a space to play catch, or a safe space in the basement to skip rope, etc.), especially as an infant. Communities can host drop-in sports sessions at the local community centres, such as badminton, squash, volleyball, soccer, basketball, etc.

Camping can be encouraged, but it is not necessary. As long as the child enjoys exercise, then the goal is achieved. Again, positive experiences with exercise are necessary for the child to know that exercise is not merely a chore.

Obesity is not merely a personal issue; it is a communal issue. Healthy weight loss must include exercise along with healthy eating. America is moving forward in terms of health. Let’s hope their next step is just as progressive.

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18 comments on “Food for thought: Obesity-obsessed school food in the US

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    February 5, 2013

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      January 25, 2013

      Thanks! Feel free to press the brown “Follow :)” button at the bottom of the page to receive email notifications of whenever I post something.

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  6. de Finish Line
    January 15, 2013

    I have heard, read and watched a lot of materials concerning the food that Americans consume and the continued rising of obesity. Due to mass media, this is a growing trend here in Malaysia too.

    I grew up during a time when school canteens sold good fresh food; noodles, rice, fish, chicken and such all prepared fresh and hardly anything went through a processing machine. Now, students demand fries and other processed food. McDonalds and other such fast food restaurants are spawning like mushrooms. At one mall near my home, there are 3 McDonalds within 250 meters from each other. Natural food are striving hard to stay on the table. Obesity is now on the rise in a country that prides itself in its variety of great fresh food. It is depressing.

    I am trying to encourage my friends to eat healthier and through my blog and facebook page. I certainly hope to make a difference to at least a few.

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  11. Abdurahman Ibrahim
    January 10, 2013

    I’m glad you wrote on this topic. Parents should set the tone when it comes to healthly eating and excercise. They are the ones who set the example when they are little. I find that a lot of healthy foods are more of an acquired taste in my experience. It’s much easier to get people into good habits if it’s seen as good to do rather than a drag. Good job.

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    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      January 10, 2013

      Thank you so much for your compliments! :) I aim to post at least twice a week on social and educational issues. If you like what you see, don’t hesitate to press the Follow button at the bottom!

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    January 9, 2013

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    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      January 10, 2013

      Hi Lon,

      I use Chrome, but I just checked with IE. I didn’t have any problems. Are you using the most updated version of IE? I’m not sure if WordPress uses HTML 5, so that could be one of the causes of this mishap.

      Thanks for coming by the website. Feel free to browse through the other posts. :) I aim to post at least twice a week.

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This entry was posted on January 8, 2013 by in education, politics, school, society and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

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