One year is far too small a sample size to judge the effectiveness of federal standards to make school lunches healthier.
Anecdotal evidence from Chautauqua Lake Central School, however, tells a story that should come as a surprise to no one - putting healthier food on a child's plate doesn't mean the child will actually eat the healthier food. Bob Reynolds, a Chautauqua Lake maintenance staff member, told school board members recently that more of the healthy food is being thrown away than eaten.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kid Act of 2010 went into effect for the 2012-13 school year and made fruits and vegetables a necessary part of each school lunch while prompting schools to serve less processed foods and more whole grains. The standards are designed to make lunches healthier and less fattening. Generations of children have found ways to avoid eating healthy foods ranging from apples to zucchini. It should shock no one that the first year of healthier school lunches was received with a resounding thud from children.
Changing such ingrained attitudes will take time and a better example from parents, a standard more powerful to children than the faceless federal government. Children need to see their parents eating healthy foods and exercising once in a while. Like the federal guidelines or not, obesity is a serious problem in our society - one on which New York state can put a price tag.
A September 2012 report by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said 1.4 million children in New York are overweight and obese, at a cost of $327 million to New York state. By the time those children are adults, that cost climbs to $11.8 billion in state obesity health care costs. New York's Medicaid program - funded by federal, state and local tax dollars - spends more than $4.3 billion a year for obesity-related treatment for diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. In addition, private health insurance and Medicare pay out an estimated $7.5 billion more for obesity-related expenditures each year in New York.
Clearly, the effort to get children healthier is a worthy one if those healthier children become healthier adults. To be successful, the effort must include more than plopping healthier foods on a child's lunch tray.