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School lunch vs. junk food

May 28, 2009

School lunch ladies around the United States are fighting to feed healthier food to the nation’s increasingly overweight student body,  but their biggest obstacle is competing with fast-food chains like McDonald’s and junk food like Doritos

lunchboysIn Los Angeles, the country’s second-biggest school district is serving up increasingly nutritious and lower-calorie food (the photo at right shows two Castelar Elementary students’ lunch choices).

Despite that, studies have found that roughly two-thirds of schools had fast-food chains within easy walking distance.

West Adams Preparatory High School student Edgar Barragan, 16, ticked off a half-dozen private and public fast-food outlets near his high school, including McDonald’s and a Burger King that is located kitty-corner from school (see photo  below).

Paola Villatoro, a 17-year-old at Downtown Magnet High School in Los Angeles, said she joins friends for lunch at a nearby fast-food joint a couple times a week: “There’s a Jack in the Box right across from school, so we get that.”

lunchhsbkcA fast-food restaurant within about 500 feet of a school may lead to at least a 5 percent increase in the obesity rate at that school, according to a recent study conducted by economists at Columbia University and the University California, Berkeley.

Corporate Accountability International has launched a “Value (the) Meal”  campaign aimed at fast-food chains, which the public interest group alleges are putting the health of children at risk.  The name of the push comes from fast-food restaurant value menus that often sell food items for $1 or less.

As part of the campaign, Corporate Accountability International started a project to map fast-food chains located near schools in Boston, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area.

Gabriella Rodriguez, who works in a school cafeteria in Riverside, California, said she sees the unhealthy food choices kids make when they are given the option.

“They buy a Coke and Hot Cheetos — at 7:30 in the morning,” Rodriguez said. 

But competition from junk food is also rampant in areas where fast-food restaurants are not allowed and where students have no on-campus access to vending machines.

Jamestown, Rhode Island, is a leader in the state’s push to make school lunches healthier. Still, some elementary students there complain that the new, healthier pizza has “seeds” and say they miss the “greasy pizza,” tater tots and ice cream that used to be on the menu.

“I think they could add soda. It’s not healthy,but it’s better than water,” said Josef Cohen, 10.

He and other students have to go beyond the village’s limits to find fast-food, but kids dragged in plenty of junk food to school via brown-bagged lunches. That haul included potato chips, Doritos and chocolate chip cookies.

(Photos/Lisa Baertlein)


If we are Nazifying what our students eat at school, then all teachers and staff need to eat healthy and be required to be weight appropriate for their height and age. Parents obviously don’t care too much about this – kids are kids and they will eat what they want. Here’s a thought: parents need to be parents and start teaching their kids proper habits at home, where overweight mommy supplies most of the junk food that they bring to school.

Posted by Frank Dailey | Report as abusive

I feel that individuals should hold more of the responsibility on issues such as these. It is irrational to expect the world around you to provide people with nothing but easy choices. It is up to each person to make decisions that benefit them, and up to parents to provide the information necessary for the children to make good decisions. No person will always make the correct decision, but it is absolutely ridiculous to place the blame solely on the companies that are providing the service.*On a side note, I find it odd that this journalist decided to single out the Doritos brand as opposed to the Frito-Lay company which produces Doritos, as well as many of the major snack chips. It appears as though they are holding some type of grudge, which in my opinion makes the journalism much less effective.

Posted by Ryan | Report as abusive

I would have probably gone somewhere else for lunch when I was in school too but we weren’t allowed to leave school grounds. I think the author has it wrong, the greatest obstacle is not fast food chains but individual choice. Some may see that as a problem I see it as the essence of life, Free will. It is up to us individually to decide what to put into our bodies. It is sad to read a 10 year old said that soda pop is better than water. Obviously he does not understand water’s role in life and how soda pop wrecks it. Perhaps a better way to combat some of these bad choices would be for kids to understand exactly what they’re dealing with. There is a thin line for educators to not cross that enables a limitation in our children so they can have a reason to be in their lives. It’s a shame that more parent’s do not teach their children early on how life works. You have to be able to make your own decisions in this world to fully appreciate the fruits of your effort. But it sure does help to understand those decisions fully and we as friends, family, educators, and or mentors should put more time into educating our young people about life and how decisions we make affect it. Children are not stupid by any means and they learn extremely fast. We all can take advantage of that and make a difference if we try.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

Children aren’t making the choices we want them to, so we should take away their choice? That robs them of an education and does absolutely nothing to promote skills that will be neccessary for their generation to lead and support this country when their time comes.And I agree with Ryan – singling out Doritos does reduce the effectiveness of the article.


Not to worry all. This is another job for Super President who will solve it with big government like he solves all other problems.

Posted by Nick | Report as abusive

i think many parents should hold themselves fully responsible in the way of upbringing their children, its by their sheer laziness by not cooking and providing good homely food to their children right from their infancy that has promoted and given rise to lots of baby foods and fast food restaurants around the world. Its high time parents should start shouldering their responsibility in naturing themselves and their offspring to a healthy diet and also start training their wards by encouraging and educating their siblings about the dangers and after affects of outside food. The government should also support and play a strong role in this matter to the maximum extent without any kind of loopholes.

Posted by ahmed | Report as abusive

Why on Earth should kids get a “choice?” We don’t hold children responsible for anything, and that’s as it should be. They’re minors, legally and developmentally unequipped to make sound decisions. Of course a ten year old kid thinks soda is better than water. This is when an adult –a rational, responsible adult — should step in and say, “NO.”There should be no soda, “sports drinks” which are basically sugar water, candy, chips, or other junk available on school grounds, period. Let kids brown bag it, but in no way should bad parents be enabled by the school system to dodge the blame for their 200 pound diabetic ten year old.

Posted by Dylan | Report as abusive

I believe that we can still have some formof junk food in school, but not all junk food. I go to highschool and am 17 yrs old. And I notice that all we serve is cheeseburgers, hamburgers, GREASY PIZZA, ice cream, panini(which is kinda healthy considering the amount of veggies on it)and there is a section where they have made fresh garden salads, but there is only 2 of them for our entire 1000 student population…… and when there gone, they don’t bother making more. I want to try and change the menu at my school, one more ridiculous thing is the price, were PAYING OUR SCHOOLS TO KILL US!!!!-peace-

Posted by Johnathan | Report as abusive

I don’t think taking all junk food out of schools is a good idea, mainly because it doesn’t seem fair to the people who don’t eat it that often. I recently read a book called Junk by Christopher Largen in which all junk food was banned–in fact, it had the same stigma as drugs do today. Doesn’t sound too far off from what’s starting to happen now. Now in the news I hear more and more about taking “bad” candy out of school vending machines and new food laws being considered. Don’t we have a right to eat what we want? Yes, they’re kids and they should know if their food is good for them, but there should still be a choice. Everything is okay in moderation (for the most part). Shoveling five burgers a day down your throat is a bad idea, but what about people who eat out once a week? Once a month? Is it really that big a deal? People should be able to choose to be healthy or unhealthy; it’s their bodies.

Posted by Speechless | Report as abusive

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