The Effectiveness of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act
Majority of schools in the United States have a history of serving children meals that are full of sugar, sodium, and salt. With millions of children eating these foods, there has been a rise in obesity cases in the country, and it has forced the government to come up with new healthy food programs that are implemented by all public schools through the Department of Agriculture. The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act which was introduced in 2010 was aimed at controlling the sugar and sodium content in foods served in the schools. The legislation authorized different nutrition programs such as the School Breakfast Program, the Special Supplement Program, and the National School Lunch Program. Since the beginning of its implementation by different schools in 2012, the Act has received lots of criticisms across the nation with many people seeing the benefits while others counting their losses. Three different articles have been reviewed to analyze the issues regarding the Act: Sabrina Tavernise provides detailed statistics of the positive changes witnessed in many schools since the Act was implemented. The author also highlights the challenges and possible solutions for the schools. Ron Nixon article, Schools Report Varying Results in Their Efforts to Comply with Nutrition Guidelines is also considered; it identifies the issues raised by various schools and how children are managing with the new program. In, Why Students Hate School Lunches, Kate Murphy’s focus, however, is described why the government should slow down the process of implementation since children get repellant towards the new menu. This critiques are, therefore, discussed in details.
From the three articles, it is clear that the main aim of the Act was to reduce obesity among children; many schools adopted the program, and reduction in the obesity cases have been witnessed. 80% of schools in the United States provided 2 or more vegetables in every meal as per 2014 records and serving of fruits has risen from 68% in 2000 to 78% in 2014 (Tavernise Para. 3). These adjustments have resulted to the reduction in obesity with about 17% in 2012. Murphy also support the government’s efforts on promoting healthy foods; he explains that 62 schools in Minneapolis are already implementing the healthy diet program (Para. 10). Opting for healthier foods at school will, therefore, help reduce weight related diseases. According to Nixon, over 95% of schools in the country are meeting the standards set by the department of Agriculture (Para. 8). These statistics, therefore, clear that the Act has managed to reduce cases of obesity and would still impact the country positively.
According to the three articles, various schools are currently using different menu techniques to achieve the guidelines of the Act. St. Paul’s Public Schools, for instance, have embraced healthier food including vegetables and fruits (Nixon Para. 14). They are working with food companies to reduce the level of salt and sugars in food products. The Schools Nutrition Association has also ensured that quantity of sodium is minimized through the removal of food items like pickles and banana peppers in their menu and the removal of Mandarin chicken salad in the school diet because of its high sodium content (Murphy Para. 12). Even though children have not adapted yet to the new menu, at least the schools are assured of their health status. Tavernise also suggests in his article that more than half of the schools in the U.S preparing food on site ensure they serve vegetables (Para. 8). Those using canned vegetables and fruits ensure they have low sodium content. Associates of the Food Trust in Philadelphia has worked in many schools and communities to promote natural foods owing to the fact that they are brighter and healthier for children. They ensure that schools serve legumes and snacks such as potatoes chips are baked instead of fries to students (Para. 9). This has also been accompanied with small food portions, and beverages are no longer sweetened. These efforts have managed to reduce obesity among the school children.
The three articles reveal that amidst the benefits caused by the Act, schools are still complaining of its effects on school and budgeting. First, many schools are claiming that students are no longer eating their meals. According to Nixon, most students throw away the foods they are served, and it has resulted to increased wastes generated from the remaining foods (Para. 4). The author acknowledges that some school officials and republicans are also suggesting that the menus are less appetizing to the children, thus, there is a need to change the Act. Similar to the argument, Murphy asserts that the new menus introduced in schools have given chefs and cooks less options for students; this has made the children to opt for outside cafeterias where they can still get fries and other snacks (Para. 7). The new guidelines did not change anything but have forced manufacturers to re-engineer their products. Whole grain doughnuts, for instance, still contain a lot of fats, and, thus, cannot control obesity. Amidst the adoption of the new guidelines by schools, students still have difficulty in adapting to the new culture. A survey conducted by Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity revealed that students that choose vegetables have dropped to 52% from 68% recorded in 2012 (Tavernise Para. 19). Students are still making fun of the lunch they are served claiming that it is a horrible mystery meat with majority of them abandoning fruits and vegetables in their plates. With the demand that schools adopt 100% whole grain foods and low levels of sodium, it is difficult to transform the traditional diet without transgressing from one level to the next. Critiques also feel that the process has proven to be very expensive making majority of the schools unable to afford. According to Murphy, the study conducted by the School Nutrition Association proves that school nutrition programs introduced by the Act have resulted to a rise in the financial constraints (Para. 8). Chris Burkhardt, one of the directors in Lakota Local Schools District, Ohio, suggested that the schools have lost more than 15% of the revenues since they began implementing the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. Nixon also suggests that schools are straining to achieve the goals of the Act. The Chief Operation officer of St. Paul Public Schools said that the money that the department of Agriculture offers to schools for implementation is not enough; they are forced to cut on the educational funds to cover the new meal costs (Para. 11). However, this claim may be debatable owing to the fact that the department of Agriculture released over $98 million for purchasing equipment and training yet $28 million remain unspent.
In order to widely adopt the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act without affecting the children and the school administration, various measures have been recommended by the three articles. First, it is important to engage the students in the process of implementation by letting them suggest what healthy foods they prefer to see on the table. According to Murphy, schools in Minneapolis have abandoned processed meals and instead embraced full on-site kitchens (Para. 10). They have introduced student contests, Junior Iron Chef Contests, where new recipes are made by the students. The schools also have Minnesota Thursdays in which local menus are introduced. This inclusion process help students to positively react towards natural and healthy foods. The food service director of the Boulder Valley Schools affirms the improvements made in schools without compromising students’ wellbeing. It is, therefore, clear that the Act could work even without reforms. There is also a need to incorporate the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program in public schools where there are mixed backgrounds of children. Farm-fresh foods and education requires a lot of funds; implementing this would not be feasible for less affluent schools such as the Detroit Public Schools having children from poor family backgrounds. In such cases, government funding should be used to provide the students with free meals. Betty Wiggins, the executive director of the Detroit Public Schools, commends the CEP for the good job it has done in schools (Murphy Para. 16). There are more food choices for lower graders and children have begun to embrace new menus such as the three-bean vegetarian chili and low-fat breaded chicken patties.
There is also a need of early implementation of the new program as well as educating the children on healthy diet. It is important that guidance on healthy eating is started when children are still 2 years of age (Murphy Para. 18). It is a critical age period when the palate can be broadened. Lean Birch, a psychologist at the University of Georgia, suggests that it is more difficult to change food tastes and preference than forming them. It is, therefore, important to train children early enough so that they adapt to the healthy meals. Parents have also great influence to the choice of food made by children. According to Murphy, kids only eat what their parents eat; if they realize the menu is different from the one they are used to, then they may decide not to eat anyway. It means that parents must also be involved in reforming of the eating habits of the children; healthier menus should be adopted at home to allow children to transform their preference from junks to natural meals. In addition to this, food workers and manufacturers should also be engaged in the process of healthy transformation. Since they are the ones preparing and serving meals, chefs and cooks should be educated on the need for healthy eating as well as guided on healthy menus. It will help schools to prepare more diverse foods that may even attract students. The Unified School District in De Soto has adopted a new technique of working with the food manufacturers to produce foods with low fat, sugar, and sodium contents (Nixon Para 24). They have come up with breadstick that meets the guidelines in the Act, and has not interfered with students’ interest in food.
The three articles reveal that the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act is a very crucial guideline that can be used to create a healthy nation. It has seen the number of obesity children drop by 17%. With healthier foods adopted by many schools, heart diseases and other weight related conditions could be prevented. Amidst the challenges that have been highlighted, including high costs associated with the program, students’ reluctance to eat healthy, and lack of flexible and diverse menus, many schools have strived to make the Act work. With the help of the department of Agriculture, schools are involving students in the process so as to influence positive attitude towards healthy eating. It is also clear that more needs to be done; food manufacturers should produce low fat and sodium content foods, and children should be taught to embrace healthy foods right from home. This way, the nation can have a healthy population.