Sunday, January 29, 2012

Schools Can't Force Better Choices on Students

Schools have been enlisted into the vanguard of society's fight against obesity, by revamping their cafeteria  lunches.  Cafeteria managers are being told to eliminate "fast food options" and to substitute healthy alternatives, whatever that means.  The first problem has been that the customers don't like the changes.  Newspapers  report of students rebelling against their tofu wraps with Swiss chard.  They taste  "yukky," and students don't eat the stuff. Those with cars head out to Subway and smuggle in contraband.  The costs for the new menus are, of course, higher, since the food service companies have developed their lowest cost options around the traditional fare, which has been in place since I went to school.  A chicken nugget is a chicken nugget.  Pizza continues to be a "go to" alternative, because it is the number item in "food away from home," even though we all know it has too much fat, too much salt, and too many carbs for a balanced diet.

Now comes the worst news from social science research: exposure to nasty foods like sugar-sweetened colas, candies and snacks during middle school has a statistically weak and insignificant relationship to weight gain among these populations, regardless of ethnicity, gender or income, in a longitudinal study

Students are already taught in a variety of courses--nutrition, health science, biology, conservation--about the costs of our food system and about the perils of too many calories from sugar, fat and meat.  Regulating their food over the relatively small number of food interactions the students have over a calendar year apparently doesn't have a discernible effect. Let's stick to the academic route, improve the alternatives without putting off the customer, and hope that the current generation starts to make better choices when they are out of school. 

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