Why School Lunches Are Much More Than Just a Health Issue
It’s amazing how much of our lives revolve around food. Even more shocking is how our diet choices affect our health and our chances of becoming successful. Just think about how much happier people are when they are healthy: they feel good about their body and talents, as well as their outlook on life. They’re confident—and maybe smarter and richer.
Yes, we should be concerned that nearly half of American children are overweight and obese, putting them at higher risk for developing pre-diabetes, diabetes and heart disease. But a recent New York Times article shows that eating-related problems like obesity can reach beyond health and have economic repercussions as well. The story details a study that found that overweight women worked in jobs with lower earnings and received less education than their thinner female peers, from closely examining data from a project tracking more than 10,000 people who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957.
The impact of food on socioeconomics doesn’t stop there, nor is the relationship between the two simple. The study went further to show that employers find overweight employees to be less capable and less hardworking. Yet, to complicate matters, women who make less money tend to be overweight or obese in the United States because of the very fact that they cannot afford healthier foods. Moreover, lower-income women can be faced with fear of food deprivation, so they overeat when food is available. Insufficient food also leads to malnutrition, so while people in the lower-income bracket can afford cheaper foods and never go hungry, they are not receiving the essential vitamins and minerals they need to survive.
All of this research has brought school lunches to the forefront of a nationwide push for healthier meals for children. As the setting where children learn how to lead better, more successful lives, school makes the perfect environment for picking up healthy eating habits. First Lady Michelle Obama has launched a nationwide campaign called “Let’s Move” to improve the quality of foods in schools, to make healthy foods more affordable and accessible for all families and to help parents become educated in nutrition and exercise. In December 2010, President Obama signed a $4.5 billion bill to improve the quality of students’ meals. And, just recently, Los Angeles became the first school district to ban chocolate milk. It’s important for all of us—children, teens and adults—to know as early as possible how to make good food choices and understand the repercussions of eating unhealthily to their health and future.
For those of us beyond the schoolyard years, being healthy isn’t just about taking care of your health. It’s also about improving your self-image, keeping a positive perspective of your life and setting yourself up for long-term success. Healthy people are able to succeed because they are in good health, feel energized and can focus on their goals. Unhealthy people, on the other hand, may worry about developing serious medical conditions, affecting the quality of the life they lead.
Fortunately, eating healthy can be easy and fun. Doing simple things like preparing your own lunch for school, instead of eating cafeteria food, is a step to becoming a healthier person. You don’t have to wait until the government starts regulating your meals—good healthcare starts with yourself. You can start educating yourself by incorporating wholesome fresh foods into your diet, like using whole-grain bread instead white, eliminating sugary cereals for steel-cut oatmeal, choosing fruits over chips and cookies and grilled chicken or even steak over pizza and cheeseburgers. For more healthy school lunch ideas, check out our blog, where you can find delicious inspiration for your meals .
If you need some guidance, USADA’s food icon MyPlate is a great example of how you should balance your meals. In 1992, the U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced the food pyramid, which divided foods into tiers. But what’s great about MyPlate is that it divides your plate into sections labeled vegetables, fruits, grains and protein. This helps give you a better visual look of what you should be eating (for example: lean sources of protein like beans, seafood, fish, white-meat chicken.)
Leading healthier lifestyles inevitably improves our self-image and sets us up for long-term success in every aspect of our lives. Physical health aside, everyone wants social acceptance, not the stigma of being overweight. Yet what matters is that you’re healthy and comfortable in your own skin, not that you’re model-thin. Regardless of body size, all teen girls struggle with insecurities about their weight and self-esteem. Perhaps an expanding health education can also help with body image issues and eating disorders.
Nonetheless, food plays a significant role in our health, as well as the most important thing of all—how we view ourselves and our success, dreams and happiness.