The United States is dealing with an obesity crisis. For the first time, the current generation of children in the United States is not expected to live as long as their parents. Alarming statistics such as these has prompted Jamie Oliver, chef, author, and television personality from the United Kingdom, to take America by storm and stage a Food Revolution in this county. Oliver starts his revolution in Huntington, West Virginia, which the Associated Press, using Centers for Disease Control Prevention data, recently named as the country’s most unhealthy and fattest city. Both welcomed by the community as well as met with hostility, Oliver attempts to change eating habits with the hope of seeing similar changes that were witnessed in a school system in the UK. Upon launching his 2004 Feed Me Better campaign in Greenwich, England, which rid school lunches of junk food and replaced them with healthier options, school absences due to illness dropped 15% and scores in English and science rose 4.5% and 6%, respectively.
While generally not a wide spread approach, healthy school lunch initiatives are not completely new to the US school system. Hopkins School District in Minnesota is one district that has made significant changes to their school lunch experience. Implemented in 2003, the program offers healthier food options, such as fresh, minimally processed foods low in saturated and trans fat, and has removed candy and pop from school vending machines. Students are equipped with a debit card to purchase food and the point of sale data allows researchers to track the purchases along with demographic information on each student. The program found very encouraging results. The nutritional quality of the food being consumed by students improved. Differences were also witnessed between boys and girls, with girls being more likely to purchase healthy food and boys having a greater improvement in the healthy quality of their choices.
Programs such as these are critical to help reverse the current obesity trends in the United States. Hopefully, more innovative, healthy school lunch programs will emerge and interventions such as these will have a lasting effect on the lives and health of youth participants.