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Leah Swedberg, Fargo, Published November 10 2012

Letter: The other side of lunches

On Nov. 6, The Forum ran a front-page article titled “The new hunger games,” presenting a very one-sided discussion on the new federal mandates placed on school lunches. As a health and physical educator, I couldn’t be more excited about the changes but believe we still have a long way to go.

If the author had done his research, he would have found that more than one-third of the nation’s youth are overweight or obese, and that the current generation is the first that is expected to have a shorter life span than their parents (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012). In 2008, the CDC reported North Dakota’s childhood obesity rates at a staggering 27.1 percent, and they have yet to show a decline.

With such astounding statistics, why would The Forum insult a program that was put in motion to curb these ill-fated numbers of our society and the future of our youth? Every time a finger points, three more are pointing back.

Instead of blaming Michelle Obama, how about we take a look at ourselves? What have I done to model healthy eating and provide nutritious options for my children? What have I done to encourage 60 minutes of physical activity each day? The cold hard truth, folks, is that the majority of the country hasn’t done anything.

So often, we hear people sigh, “if only parents would do their jobs.” And maybe this is one of the times where the statement holds some weight. If parents purchased more nutrient-dense foods at home or engaged their child in 60 minutes of daily exercise, the federal government would not have to step in and implement these important changes in the one place all children must go: our schools. And these changes are not meant to punish students and the nutrition staff, like the article implied, but rather to improve the obesity crisis in our nation.

Schools have been mandated to make many nutritional changes over the years. The uproar surrounding the removal or disabling of pop and vending machines during school hours was as equally upsetting to kids then as the new changes to school lunches are now.

Today’s society has made a habit out of choosing empty-calorie foods. Eating nutrient-dense foods often equates to “healthier” eating, to which students have claimed as “tasteless.” Anyone who’s ever tried to eat better or lose weight knows that healthier eating takes time to adjust to. It’s an acquired taste that doesn’t happen overnight. As teachers, coaches and school nutrition staff, we must be role models and champions of the new regulations. If we don’t, how can we expect the students to follow?

As for students being hungry at the end of the day, that’s normal. The recommended guidelines are five to six small meals each day (and 850 calories is no small meal, people!) It’s OK for students to be hungry at 3 p.m. The human body is supposed to have an afternoon snack. So eat an apple and a cheese stick. Have a handful of trail mix and a carton of milk.

I just don’t get it. We recycle to give our children and grandchildren a better world to live in. Yet we are willing to complain about nutrient-rich meals at schools that have been implemented to improve our future’s quality of life. You can’t have it both ways.