Monday, May 30, 2011

Political Influence on School Lunch: Fixing the Mess


At the outset, altering school environments appears a quick solution for the obesity problem; however, it is not to discount the community and government aspect of the ecological model. It is arguable that public policy at the federal, state, and local levels wields equal if not greater influence over the decisions that schools and districts make in terms of the physical education and school meal programs. The presence of competitive foods (Mellow, M, Pomeranz, J,& Moran, P, 2008) is also becoming a debated public health topic. As most students attend public schools, and public schools are directly influenced by government funding and policy, the fundamental role of the government is not to be downplayed.

When it comes to physical education, the United States has no law requiring physical education to provided to students, nor are there or have there been incentives for districts to offer physical activity programs. (Story, 2009) Existing legislation, such as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, promotes the equal access of girls and boys to existing programs in districts. (Story, 2009) The No-Child Left Behind Act, 2001, is criticized for its exclusion of physical and health education from school subjects to be graded for achievement (Story, 2009) Thus, many schools in the U.S. simply do not have the incentive to make physical education periods mandatory for students. NCLB does, however, have the Carol M. White Physical Education Program division that offers grants for school programs. This requires districts to overcome more bureaucratic hurdles in order to get the funding they need for programs that may help the children they service.

Second, many assert that the US Food Environment simply must be improved at federal and state levels both inside and outside of schools. The US government allots money in the form of subsidies to the meat, dairy, corn, and wheat industries while awarding very few subsidies to fruit and vegetable farmers (Rampell, 2010). The allotment of subsidies simply does not reflect the nutritional needs of human beings. Processed foods made of subsidized corn and wheat are artificially cheap, vegetables appear artificially expensive in the eyes of those who do not understand the political environment of food in the United States. (Kenner, 2008) As inflation affects food prices, fruits and vegetables continues to become more expensive, while the price of corn and wheat products has actually decreased. That is, corn-syrup sweetened sodas and cookies made of flour. Restructuring the federal subsidy system will make the budgeted $2.47 (Story, 2009) per “free” school lunch meal go much farther in purchasing healthful foods.

Finally, competitive foods are an issue unique to the US school meal system in that they are not regulated to the same standards of nutrition content as subsidized meals unless they are being sold during meal time. This is according to a 1970 amendment to the Child Nutrition Act. (Mello, M, Pomeranz, J,& Moran, P, 2008) School districts accept contracts with large food and beverage companies in order to support their programs. The formal policy described by Mello’s article is the non-policy of food and beverage giants choosing the path of “self-regulation” which does not serve the interests of the public when their products contribute to the public health risk that is childhood obesity.

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