With the obesity epidemic sweeping the nation, it comes as no surprise that recent reports indicate that children are expected to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. Many factors contribute to this equation: lack of physical activities, an excess of TV watching and video games, as well as our “super-sized” portions.

We live in a world that is consumed by instant gratification, be it material objects such as designer handbags and shoes or fast-food chains. With parents working long-hour days, and some working multiple jobs, this generation of children has resorted to becoming “latch-key kids.” Not having an adult around, someone who is willing and able to cook for them, many of these children are left with no other option but to grab a quick bite, be it at a local fast-food restaurant or popping in a microwave dinner.

It is a common trend that children who are overweight have a higher risk of being obese once they enter adulthood. Washington, D.C., also has the highest proportion of overweight and obese children, and is 29th in the nation for accruing obesity-related medical costs. Since the 1970s, cases of obesity have more than doubled for preschoolers and teens and tripled for pre-teens.

Living a fast-paced lifestyle, many children resort to eating school lunches. An University of Chicago report noted that three-fourths of school children eat through the National School Lunch Program, which serves almost 30 million students nationwide. Of those 30 million students, 48 percent receive free lunches and 9 percent receive reduced lunches.

ost parents are not aware that the food their children are consuming in school is high in fat, sugar and calories. Studies also indicate that children who participate in the National School Lunch Program are more likely to be overweight than those children who brownbag their lunch.

Low-income African-American and Hispanic children, predominately those who reside in Washington, D.C., are more likely to eat school lunch. Tubman Elementary, located on 13th St. NW., for example, has an enrollment of 440 students, 94 percent of whom receive free lunches and another 4 percent of whom receive reduced lunches. With reduced lunches costing pennies (30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch), it is safe to say that most, if not all, students eat at least one meal at school. School lunches become the most economical solution, particularly in this area, where the median income per household is $33,408. It is economically to the families’ advantage for the children to eat at least one meal in school.

Added to that is the sad truth that for some children, school lunch may be the only meal of the day. Yet, the school lunches, particularly those of the District of Columbia Pubic Schools, leave little to be desired. A quick Google search took me to the monthly school menu, which consisted of a beef patty sausage on a buttermilk biscuit, pork sausages, pizza, hotdogs and hamburgers. And this is their only meal a day?

Approximately 40 percent of school districts nationwide have eliminated recess. The first step would be to obviously bring back recess. Not only does this aid in the fight against obesity, but it also provides children the opportunity to get out of the classroom and jump around. Not many six-year-olds have the capacity to sit in a classroom for eight hours straight – granted I know few seniors that can sit through a two-hour seminar without getting antsy.

There are ways that we can help and join the fight against child obesity. An emphasis on nutrition in school and physical education are key components. Another option would be the instruction of basic human anatomy and digestion in science classes. Learning about the food pyramid and actively encouraging students to make healthy choices can prove monumental in the health of the youth.

In no way am I encouraging a weight-loss program; rather, I am rallying for a lifestyle change, with the objective of introducing new eating habits and food to these children. Adults should never make children feel as though eating a candy bar or gummy worms is taboo. Rather, through the explanation of the food pyramid, they can emphasize that you may eat anything you desire as long as it is in moderation. Schools can also offer enticing, fun and yet simple recipes to these children, so that they may prepare these snacks themselves with little or no adult supervision.

Texas recently opted for a far different solution to the epidemic, taking a first step in the battle against childhood obesity. By focusing their program on calories burned instead of calories eaten, they recently toughened their gym requirements.

Facts are facts. It is much more costly to eat organic than it is to buy a box of mac-n-cheese. It would therefore be unfair to point the finger solely at school lunches as the principle cause of child obesity. But, if school lunches are contributing to childhood obesity, making lunches healthier could potentially impact a large number of children across the nation, regardless of socioeconomic status.

aria Malvar is a junior in the College.

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