The School Lunch Controversy

The headline is “Trump is ruining the health of our school children.” Add it to the list of reasons to pray for change in 2020. However, as much as I’d like to place the blame on El Presidente, rationally, this isn’t going to make much of a difference.

If you haven’t read about it, here is the short version:

Under the guidance of Michelle Obama, whose platform was childhood obesity, the Obama administration implemented the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Part of the Act mandated strict rules about school lunches served with some financial assistance from the federal government. For instance, all food had to be whole grain-rich meaning at least 50% is whole grain. This affected common kid food like pizza and hamburger buns. Also, only fat-free milk was allowed. The United States Department of Agriculture just loosened the regulations, so that half of the food served must be whole grain-rich and low fat milk can be on the menu. The rationale for the change is complaints from the kids, difficulties for schools to keep up with the rules and a general decrease in milk consumption.

I am generally obsessed with the topic of childhood obesity* because I see the adult consequences in my office. The majority of chronic diseases I treat would be alleviated by the maintenance of a healthy weight. It is an overwhelming problem, but I do believe we can change the trend. Ultimately, it is parents, not soda companies, the sugar cane industry or even school cafeterias, who have to change.

I like the Obama regulations. Any reasonable attempt to change our unhealthy culture is a valuable one. In the eight years since the Act passed, we haven’t seen a dent in the obesity epidemic and obesity in our youth rose from 16.9 to 18.5%. Perhaps with more time under the healthier lunch program, we could have seen some positive change. The sad truth though, is that if we don’t train our kids taste buds to enjoy healthier food from a young age, they will simply not eat it outside the home.

If the kids are eating lots of white flour and drinking sugary beverages at home, they will not develop a taste for the better stuff. If they are eating snacks at every waking moment, eating because they are bored or sad or celebrating or out of sheer habit of having something in your mouth at all times, no school lunch initiative is going to change things.

The government should be focused on information, education and changing the parenting culture from the bottom up. Changing the food at lunch can’t hurt, but until we change our attitude about what and when we eat, we are going to continue to see obesity rise in this country. With it will be skyrocketing health care costs and disability rates, as well as increasing rates of depression, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Our children’s life expectancy will be lower than ours and their quality of life will suffer.

Among all the things we worry about as parents, the long-term health of our kids needs to move up on the priority list. The number one way we can influence a good life for them is to ensure they develop healthy eating habits. It is not about organic, or all-natural or non-GMO, it is about the quantity and overall quality of the food they eat. We can blame Trump for a lot of things, but in this case, parents, we only have ourselves to blame. Overparenting leads to overeating which leads to a dangerous relationship with food.

*I wrote a book proposal on this topic, which almost made it onto the shelves until the final opinion of the publisher was that the people who need it most will not buy parenting books. I disagree, of course. We all need to be mindful of this. The majority of obese adults were not obese children. We all need to encourage our children to have a healthier relationship with food.


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Author: Karen Latimer

Dr. Latimer is a Family Physician and Wellness & Parenting Coach. She works with parents who want to feel more confident when helping their children and coaches young adults to help them better navigate college life and transitions. Contact her at to learn more. She is the author of two Audible Originals, Take Back the House -- Raising Happy Parents and Worry Less, Parent Better. She is also the co-founder of the app that makes your life easier and puts social in a healthier place -- List'm.


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