Review of School-Lunch Legislation

Posted by on April 18, 2003

[Public Education Network Newsblast]


As the US Congress prepares to do its first review of school-lunch legislation in five years, critics are charging that school lunch in the US is a mess — and in some cases it is only getting worse. "The past 10 years have been really bad," says Antonia Demas, director of the Food Studies Institute, a nonprofit children’s-health advocacy group. The only good news, she says, is that the way kids eat in school "is getting so bad that people are finally paying attention." And increased scrutiny of what kids eat during the school day has had an impact. Growing public criticism of practices like hiring fast-food chains to cater school lunches and allowing soda- and candy-filled vending machines to operate, unchecked, in school settings has caused at least a handful of school districts to either ban or limit such practices. But such districts are in the minority. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta says that 98 percent of public US high schools and three-quarters of middle schools have vending machines. The government’s school-lunch program is also the target of much criticism. With an annual price tag of about $10 billion the program helps to feed 27 million public school children meals balanced according to government guidelines. But many observers remain unhappy over a system that allows almost 30 percent of total calories to come from fat, counts French fries as a vegetable, and too often offers unappetizing canned vegetables as the only truly "healthy" option. Some advocacy groups are urging Congress to take a hard look at a program they believe has utterly failed to keep pace with what experts today know about nutrition.

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