Thursday, February 13, 2014

Junk Food: Are Adolescents Getting Adequate Nutrition in Schools?

By Valerie Smith

While searching for an article for a school assignment project, I came across an interesting topic in reference to junk foods and the American diet, particularly in the diets of school age adolescents. Since this subject is relevant for the sake of the health of the younger generation, it seemed to me to be a topic that is important for discussion. Of the three articles presented in this paper, two will discuss opposing sides to the same issue: should junk food be banned from school premisses? The third article will theorize a middle compromise that can be reached on this issue.

The first article presented is from Margret Johnson, an English teacher, who is against the banning of junk foods. Her reasons for being against the removal of junk foods particularly relate to the fact that not all students can eat the cafeteria food due to diet restrictions or food additives:

Students who do not care for standard school menu options, or who cannot eat these meals because of dietary restrictions, often go without eating altogether. Providing attractive alternatives can help ensure that students maintain adequate caloric intake, which will in turn help enhance their attention and performance in class. In addition, sales of junk food can provide substantial economic benefits for schools.

She points out that some students will go hungry if they do not have a food choice that is separate from the cafeteria food. This objection to the dismissal of junk food seems relevant because it is better that a student have food that is not so healthy as compared to the alternative of going hungry. Having nothing to eat can interfere with their ability to concentrate and perform properly in their studies. In turn, a student's inability to concentrate on their homework can lead to worse grade scores on their assignments and tests.

Other reasons given in her article for disagreement of banning of junk foods are:

  • Sometimes the lunch lines are too long, making it difficult to get enough to eat or to be able to get extra food.
  • Munchies helps kids stay alert so that they do not fall asleep in class, yet keeps them calm so they are not as antsy, according to some teachers.
  • Caffeine (found in some soft drinks) works to calm kids who are hyper-active, and is a better alternative than medication.
  • Junk food as found in vending machines helps bring in profit for schools, which is needed to pay for expenses.
  • Healthy eating should be encouraged but not forced with no other alternative.
  • Healthy eating should not be so forced as to not give allowance to occasionally munching by banning junk food altogether.
  • Junk food should be sold along with healthy foods in vending machines.

I agree with her reasoning on the adverse affects of medicine for hyperactivity and that caffeine is a better alternative. However, I disagree with her choice of financial gain for the school system as a good reason for dietary junk food kept within schools. More income is usually needed within school systems to pay for income and expenses, but this should not be placed as a priority to the health of children.   

Will Durham, a staff writer for Reuters, is for the banning of junk foods from schools. He believes that current health guidelines are no longer efficient and need to be updated:

Current guidelines for foods sold alongside official school meals have been in place since the 1970s but they need to be updated. An Institute of Medicine expert panel recommends that lawmakers update guidelines to limit foods to specific whole grains, low-fat dairy, and fruit and vegetable options. In addition, schools should no longer sell sodas or other drinks with added sugar, and they also should prohibit the sale of caffeinated beverages. Abiding by these recommendations may help curb the rising rates of obesity and related health problems among schoolchildren. Because school children consume a high percentage of their daily caloric intake during the school day, they should have the highest-quality nutritional choices available to them at these times.

Durham suggests increasing nutritional foods to the existing cafeteria menu, while getting rid of foods that are higher in sugar content. An interesting note that he makes to this topic is that an improper diet jeopardizes the health of the students who are consuming these meals because it increases their changes of weight gain and other health related issues.  Health issues, including weight gain, seems crucial to this topic because the whole point of limiting junk food from the diet is to optimize health and to discourage ill health risks such as cancer and diabetes. Accordingly, junk food limits the nutritional value adolescents need. When students consume food with little or no nutritional value, they are getting empty calories and not proper nutrition. When the human body does not get proper nutrition it has difficulty protecting itself not only from lesser illnesses such as colds but also from those more drastic illnesses such as cancer.

Other reasons for his belief in the banning of junk food are:

  • Students will often take the junk food over the healthy food if given an alternative.
  • Because of this, schools should not allow foods full of sugar to be allowed for purchase as students will likely consume a sugar intake that is far above recommended standards.
  • This sugar consumption is particularly found in soft drinks, which are readily available through vending machines.
  • The vending machines also offer other junk food such as chips and candy bars that often will be purchased by a student in place of a meal.
  • Nutritional food should be sold in vending machines in place of junk food.

Durham recognizes that vending machines, which supply the food eaten by students who will not eat cafeteria food, should also be changed to foods of higher nutritional value. It seems that this food replacement change could be a probable alternative if those foods that are used as replacements were healthy snack alternatives such as baked low fat chips or granola bars to replace their high fat, low carbohydrate predecessors such as fried chips and candy bars. What should be considered is if students who will not eat cafeteria food will eat healthy snacks so that they are not going hungry all day while at school.

Jill O'Connor' is a baker and an author of several books. She calls the concern of over weight children an “obesity epedimic” that she believes is overtaking the country:

I think this knee-jerk reaction to the “obesity epidemic” is wrong, wrong, wrong ... I am no longer allowed to bring home-baked goodies to the schools and no cupcakes on birthdays either. But I can bring in processed snacks—as long as they have the nutritional breakdown listed on the package—are still permitted in limited amounts. a country, Americans tend to swing from one extreme to another in an effort to solve such big (no pun intended) problems—there are no shades of grey, no middle ground.

She concludes that there should be a “middle ground” for guidelines set in establishing nutritional needs within the school systems, and that society can go too far in setting guidelines for such issues.

Some of the reasons for her ideology are:

  • They can be so restricted as to no longer allowed foods that once used to be considered healthy
  • They take away the rights of parents presenting baked goods for their students.
  • These baked goods are only given on occasion to students and have all natural homemade ingredients with not chemicals and preservatives.
  • Many of the so called healthy foods come in packages and are actually not so healthy because. Although they limit sugar intake, they often contain chemicals and preservatives which can be equally as harmful to consume.
  • Foods the government should place restrictions on, whether in or out of school, without banning altogether, should be fast foods that are eaten often.
  • Home baked goods, which are eaten only on occasion, cannot be the prime factor in improper nutrition for kids and high sugar intake on a daily basis, and therefore should be allowed available as they currently are, on occasion.
  • Home baked goods can teach moderation, and home preparation of natural ingredients, including those with higher sugar content.
She makes an excellent point in the fact that certain chemicals that are added in some so called healthy foods can also be harmful. Indeed it also seems a little drastic to take away even occasional snacks, particularly those that are home cooked.

This is a chart which shows the weight gain of adolescents between the ages of  6 and 19 years:

Based on these statistics, obesity amongst adolescents of school age has risen in the last several years. Notice the particular increase in weight gain of children between the ages of 6-11. Accordingly, it is obvious that there is a problem of weight gain which is likely linked with diet and complicated by lack of proper exercise.

To summarize, I believe it is important to establish proper guidelines for nutrition, but that these guidelines can be taken too far. Removal of occasional junk food eating, particularly homemade or baked goods, seems to me as too drastic of an approach to better over all nutrition consummation. Imagine, for instance, holidays such as birthdays with wheat germ cake in place of the traditional birthday cake. What is more important is to find out which foods are consumed in higher amounts and are the likely cause of the increase in obesity. Further research should be aimed at locating these foods and integrating good eating habits accordingly without removing everything that is deemed as counterproductive in nutrition.

Source Citation

     Johnson, Margaret. "Junk Food Should Not Be Banned in Schools."Should Junk Food Be Sold in
Schools? Ed. Norah Piehl. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2011. At Issue. Rpt. from "Should Schools Allow the Sale of Junk Food?" NEA Today (Mar. 2002). Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.
Dunham, Will. "Junk Food Should Be Banned in Schools."Should Junk Food Be Sold in Schools? Ed.
Norah Piehl. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2011. At Issue. Rpt. from "Expert Panel Urges Junk Food Ban in Schools." Reuters, 2007. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.
Collier, Andrea King. "Limiting School Food Choices Can Go Too Far."Should Junk Food Be Sold in
Schools? Ed. Norah Piehl. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2011. At Issue. Rpt. from "If You Give a Kid a Cupcake."Civil Eats 26 Mar. 2010. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.
"Prevalence of overweight* among children and teenagers by age group and selected period, 1963-
2002."Weight In America: Obesity, Eating Disorders, and Other Health Risks. Ed. Barbara Wexler. 2007 ed. Detroit: Gale, 2007. Information Plus Reference Series. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.

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