Should schools restrict food options in an effort to combat childhood obesity?The rate of obesity has more than doubled over the past decade and children are among those increasingly at risk of...

Should schools restrict food options in an effort to combat childhood obesity?

The rate of obesity has more than doubled over the past decade and children are among those increasingly at risk of being or becoming obese at alarming rates. The reasons for this rise in obesity is not hard to understand: calorie-rich, cheap foods are easily available; we drive when we could walk or bike, and P.E classes are reduced or eliminated at schools. As First Lady, Michelle Obama has made it her mission to get young people eating better and leading healthier lifestyles. Among her goals are eliminating sodas and junk food from school vending machines and offering better, healthier lunches. However, some argue that people need to be able to control themselves and make the right choices rather than having no options, options these students face every day in the world outside of school. Should schools, then, restrict food options or allow choice?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The question is even more complex than already stated. First, there is the obesity question. I believe that if school food options have been part of the problem--and they have--then they should be part of the solution. If, for example. the sodas discussed were like the original Dr Pepper (made from fruits cooked into syrups), then sodas might be fine. Sodas, however, are not like original "soft drinks" at all and have contributed to child and teen obesity. As a reciprocal part of the solution, sodas as most know them should be removed from campuses. The same rationale applies to other foodstuffs. 

Second, there is the question of nutrition. When it comes to the nutrition discussion, I'm put in mind of the age-old mother's wisdom: And if they all jumped off the Empire State Building, would you do it too? This illustrates that each individual and entity (like school/district) has an independent moral obligation regardless of what is or is not done on the same question by other individuals or entities. To be specific, the fact that children have sodas and pizzas and McD___ burgers at home is wholly irrelevant to the question of whether schools have a moral obligation to provide wholesome nutrition to students ... and apparently they do have said moral and legal obligation because state and federal congresses keep authorizing school nutrition and meal programs.

Third, there is the question--a new, 20th and 21st century question--of chemical body burden. It is this: Do schools--public institutions--have the right to add toxic chemical burdens to the bodies of students [never mind homes may do so; do schools have the right to (same rationale as above)]. Once, this question would have raised eyebrows of incredulity but what with public alarm over food cans being lined with PCBs and BPAs, and public alarm over baby's products containing phthalates and BPAs, and public alarm over water bottles containing PETs (this is by far not the end of the examples)--volatile organic compounds all--the raised eyebrows of incredulity have been replaced by raised eyebrows of concern, fear and even horror.

When all three of these questions are brought under consideration, there is little or no substantiation for a conclusion other than, yes, schools--as public institutions intended to promote the public good and safety and with independent moral obligation--must remove harmful food and drink "options" from schools and replace these "options" with food and drink that won't contribute to obesity, to illness, to chemical body burden, to the accumulation of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and persistent organic compounds (POPs).

A final note on this "Yes" answer: The aim of what schools do is not directed at accommodating what is done elsewhere and is not directed at changing student or parent attitudes. The aim of what schools do is directed at their independent moral obligation, at fulfilling their obligations as public institutions, and at doing no further harm while contributing positively to measures that countermand present harm.

"From the root idea of obligation to serve or give something in return ...": Duty


stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as saying "Yes, schools should restrict food options" or "No, schools shouldn't be concerned with limiting food choices." There are a multitude of other factors that make a significant impact on the debate.

School budgets are tight all over; paying for food items that are not consumed needs to be avoided whenever possible. Dieticians can advocate increasing the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, but reality is that fresh foods cost more than many processed items. If students demonstrate that certain types of food offerings will be eaten while other items go uneaten, the choice of menus becomes easier. The child who has learned to eat french fries instead of carrot sticks may be saving the school district money.

Eating habits are developed at home and are then reinforced through peer pressure. Planning menus that follow nutritional requirement guidelines, appeal to the differing preferences of differing ages of children, meet the wide range of caloric needs resulting from varied activity levels, and stay within the budget is not an easy process! Consider the changes in diet from kindergarten through high school, as reflected in

School dieticians are doing their best, in many districts, to introduce a variety of foods that are healthier for students (and teachers!), but it's a slow learning curve to educate tastes to accept new offerings. I would not favor iron-clad restrictions - there are too many variables and too many potential exceptions to make all-inclusive rules.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I absolutely agree that schools should promote healthier eating and choices during lunch.  I teach middle school, and if many of my kids could choose to eat pizza and chips or nachos every single day, then they would choose junk food on a regular basis--not necessarily because they are not being taught about having a healthy diet at home, but because they are eleven to thirteen years old and like pizza. 

Many parents, myself included, try to steer their children toward healthier snacks and choices, and I like knowing that the school cafeterias in my district promote a healthy eating lifestyle.  Obesity has statistically been on the rise since the 1980s.  The students still have plenty of choices and opportunities to pick out something they like, but overall, the choices are much more healthy.  As a teacher, I like for my fifth and sixth period classes to come in from eating a healthy lunch, as opposed to entering my class on a suger high. 

As educators, we have a responsibility to nurture and promote the overall health and well-being of our students.  Emphasizing healthy choices at lunch in the cafeteria is just one more way to serve our children and our community.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I am not sure that we as educators really have a mandate to improve the lives and health of our students in any way we see fit.  I think that parents are the ones who are responsible for their children and that we educators should be a little careful about thinking that we know what is best for other people's kids.  That said, obesity clearly is a major problem in the US.  There is no reason that schools should continue to provide foods in the school lunch programs that would contribute to obesity.  However, vending machines and other such things that put food choices in the hands of students and parents are a different matter.  Parents should be the ones who control their kids' choices, not schools.

So, I think that schools should restrict choice within the school lunch setting, but I am less sure that we have the right to dictate other choices to students and their parents.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Absolutely. Having grown up eating school lunches as both a student and teacher, I have not forgotten some of the absolutely unhealthy and nearly inedible meals that were served to me over the years. Cheap, fatty cuts of meats, instant potatoes, and sugar-laden desserts are not a required part of education. I believe schools owe it to their students to provide healthy meals, even if many of the students prefer pizza and frozen chicken nuggets--two of the staple foods of the lunchrooms that I have most recently visited. Parents may be unwilling to provide nutritional meals for their students, but schools should not follow suit. Students deserve the best possible education during school hours, and the food they eat should also be of high nutritional quality.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe that teaching good eating habits should begin at home. My own children have many different choices about what to eat for lunch. We have made a deal about eating good lunches four or the five days (on the fifth day they can choose whatever they want).

As for schools restricting lunches, many are required to provide specific lunches which uphold balance of the food groups. The reimbursement of free and reduced monies rely upon the students taking everything the "plate" requires. If students choose to not take the required lunch, some schools are not reimbursed and the parents must pay for the lunch.

Essentially, I do not believe that schools should restrict options.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Schools should definitely restrict food options.  Children need to be taught to make healthy choices.  Any teacher or parent knows that if you ask a kid if he wants a carrot, he'll probably say no, but if you ask him if he wants a carrot or broccoli, he'll likely choose the carrot.  He’ll choose neither if the third choice is a cookie.

shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think this is probably a good idea. I know that some schools I've taught in have lots of candy and soda vending machines because they use the money to fund certain projects around the school. But the childhood obesity problem in the U.S. may require that we do more than we have been.

amberread | Student

I agree with the post above, however, speaking from a first person 14 year old point of view, the question is how effective will restricting food options be? Making unhealthy food options unavailable will not change children's attitudes towards these foods.

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