The childhood school cafeteria has been a haven for oil-laden pizzas, butter-infused hamburgers and cookies dripping with grease. Despite their artery-clogging properties, children accept these nutrient-depleted choices with open arms. However, this ready approval has created a drastic rise in obesity and diabetes, elevating these diseases to the level of epidemics. In an attempt to reverse this dismal fate for America’s future, Michelle Obama instituted the School Lunch Program in 2012.
The program is geared toward lowering overall caloric intake and increasing whole grain, fruit and vegetable consumption, primarily in low-income communities. An article published by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine states that in schools fruit selection has risen 23 percent and 16.2 percent more vegetables have been consumed since the implementation of the School Lunch Program, indicating a push in the right direction. Nevertheless, the program has many flaws in its fabrication.
The options schools are now providing have deterred students from purchasing school lunches, significantly decreasing revenue within schools that already have trouble making ends meet. It has also increased the amount of food wasted each day due to the rising number of students eating out or bringing lunch from home. Furthermore, the program does not cater to student athletes who require more calories than the average population, generating strong animosity toward the altered menu. As a result, the hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama has swept Twitter, illuminating the distaste students feel towards this program.
This harsh response may be due to the swift change in what food is provided. One cannot simply transform ingrained habits in one day. Rather, habits need to be changed slowly. As with adults, children and teens become trained to eat a certain way, and a shift that occurs too quickly could ignite negative reactions. Certain schools that gradually implemented the program seemed to have a higher satisfaction rate from the student body than those that introduced the novel menu abruptly.
The school lunch initiative has many negative consequences that have outweighed the resulting benefits. Yet the vision of a healthier path is still pursued. Although there has been a backlash from the schools as well as the students, the changes the USDA is attempting to implement are well-founded in their mission. Its delivery to an audience that has been eating a certain way for years, however, is the flaw that has held back its widespread success. By re-evaluating the logistical structure of the School Lunch Program, the potential within its model could be tapped, driving the U.S. down a healthier road.
Faizah Shareef is a senior majoring in exercise physiology.