School Lunch and Childhood Obesity

The effects of school lunch on children's health

The Hard Truth

The unhealthy foods made available to children in schools are contributing to the problem of childhood obesity. Weight gain and the development of chronic disease and unhealthy eating habits could be prevented if products high in sugar, fat, and carbohydrates were removed from school cafeterias.
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Based on BMI, 29.5% of adolescence ages 10 to 17 in Maine, are overweight or obese (2011 National Survey of Children's Health).
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A child who consumes too much fat, sugar, sodium, or processed food and too few vitamins and minerals, due to the lack of unhealthy lunch choices, develop a higher risk over time for many chronic health problems including diabetes, kidney stones, bone loss, cancer and heart disease. Additionally, kids who eat unhealthy lunches are more likely to score lower on tests and have a harder time with schoolwork, due to the lack of sustainable energy from their food. Obesity may lower a child's self-esteem, causing them to withdraw from social activities such as sports.


Children spend a lot of time eating snacks, breakfast, and lunch from the school cafeteria. Cafeteria food is often mass-produced and chosen for its low cost. Students are given food high in carbohydrates and sugar, and low in fiber and many of the recommended food groups. Breakfast options may include bagels with cream cheese, packages doughnuts or cinnamon buns, and breakfast pizza; all foods high in carbohydrates and fat. Lunch menus often include breaded chicken nuggets, pizza, cheese or chicken burgers, hot dogs, nachos, tacos, and twice-baked potatoes with cheese. Some schools also have a la carte options, where children can purchase extra items such as ice cream, bagged snack, doughnuts, brownies, and candy bars.
If junk food is put in front of children they are much more likely to choose that instead of a healthy option. Parents are often in a rush and do not take the time to pack a nutritious lunch for their children.

Reducing the Risk

Parents can help reduce the risk of their child developing obesity/poor nutrition related diseases by:

  • Packing their child's lunch with healthy options (lean turkey, carrots, low fat string cheese, bottled water).
  • Teach their child how to eat healthy at home, making them smarter in the lunchroom.
  • Sending their child to school with snacks such as almonds, sliced fruit or vegetables so they will be less likely to purchase unhealthy snacks.
  • Signing up for a pre-paid lunch program that shares purchase history with parents, to help them stay on top of what their child is eating in the cafeteria.
  • Encouraging physical activity and getting their child involved in after school activities such as soccer or an intermural team.
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Decision Making

Instead of sending their child off to school in a rush, parents should pack healthy snacks, a lean lunch, and water in their child's backpack. Parents may believe it's easier to let them fend for themselves and hope they will make the right choice. However, it is important to remember that when faced with pizza or salad, children will most often choose the unhealthy option. When in a rush, parents should remind themselves of the positive effects healthy eating will have on their child, and the negative effects of a long-term diet, high in fat, carbohydrates and sugar.
Because unhealthy food is made easily available to children in schools, obesity and other related health concerns are becoming more prevalent among children.
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For more information on the danger and prevalence of childhood obesity, visit The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention at This trustworthy website is government sponsored, won't attempt to sell you anything, and cites all of its resources.


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Healthy snacks. N.p., 20 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 Jan. 2015. <>.

Overweight or obese children in Maine. The Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, 2012. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. <>.

“Precentage of Obese Children: 2011 by State.” National Conference of State Legislatures, 2015. Web. 18 Jan. 2015. <>.

School lunch. Georgia State University, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2015. <>.

Schuna, Carly. “The Effects of Children Eating Unhealthy School Lunches.” Livestrong, 3 Sept. 2014. Web. 18 Jan. 2015. <>.

Unhealthy cafeteria food. N.p., 25 Aug. 2014. Web. 18 Jan. 2015. <>.

Unhealthy lunch. N.p., 13 July 2012. Web. 18 Jan. 2015. <>.

Vending machines. U.S. News & World Report LP, 1 July 2013. Web. 18 Jan. 2015. <>.