We have a generation at risk. That’s what many medical professionals have been saying for a number of years in regard to a dramatic increase in weight-related disorders like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease seen among American children.
Obesity and diabetes often go hand in hand. And it is a problem that manifests itself most profoundly in this country’s youngest citizens. Tennessee is among the top five states in the prevalence of Type II diabetes in children.
That’s one of the reasons the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued new guidelines in January for school lunches in accordance with a law passed by Congress in 2004. The new rules called for limiting starchy vegetables (such as fried potatoes), reducing sodium and raising the amount of tomato sauce that can be considered a vegetable serving. These changes were bitterly opposed by the frozen pizza and french fry lobby, which reportedly spent $5.6 million to oppose the rules.
Congress bowed to those special interests last week in scuttling the new school lunch guidelines. They shamelessly put money and influence ahead of the health and well being of this country’s children.
Recently, British chef Jamie Oliver brought his “Food Revolution” to America. Oliver believes schools should replace the sugar-filled and processed foods they now serve in their cafeterias with much healthier menus that feature fresh fruits and vegetables. His efforts to revolutionize school cafeterias in West Virginia and Los Angeles was met with mixed reviews by students, parents, school officials and elected leaders.
Many of the politicians expressed some of the same opposition to removing pizza and starches that was heard in Congress last week — kids like pizza and fries and they are cheap to serve.
But Oliver and others who know better rightfully point out that this inexpensive food comes at a great cost to the health of children. Oliver notes on his website that “a diet of poor quality, cheap food” puts children at risk for “obesity, diabetes, behavioral problems and poor school grades.”
Tennessee has made some progress in reversing this frightening trend in childhood obesity. One way this state has done that is by improving the quality of food and drinks available in schools.
School officials in Johnson City and Washington County have implemented programs aimed at promoting better nutrition and physical fitness for their students. Sodas and junk food have been removed from vending machines on campuses and replaced with healthier snacks.
Healthy and fit children grow into healthy and fit adults, and healthy and fit adults are less likely to be a financial drain on our health care system. Unfortunately, members of Congress decided to ignore this reality last week and place yet another generation of Americans at risk.