MCPS Attempts to Slim Down Students

by Allie Sivak ’11

First Lady Michelle Obama has taken serious initiative in attempting to slim down America’s youth. However, she is not alone in her efforts to do so—school systems around the nation are also fighting to lessen childhood obesity.

In 2006, the MCPS Board of Education officially adopted and outlined a wellness policy in hopes of creating a healthier school environment that encourages students to make wise choices when it comes to daily food intake and exercise.

In addition to nutrition education and physical activity requirements in school, the policy called for healthier options to be offered for school meals. Several regulations regarding the nutritional value of the food served in the cafeteria were made in an effort to eliminate bad eating habits and curb the nation’s increasing childhood obesity rate.

According to MCPS’ Wellness: Physical and Nutritional Health Regulation Statement, the meals served at school allow students “access to a variety of appealing, quality, nutritious meals that promote growth and development, pleasure in healthy eating, and prevent school-day hunger and its consequent lack of attention to learning.” Meals must be in accordance with the current nutritional standards as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Such nutritional restrictions include the understanding that meals must offer a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grain products, and serve only low-fat (one-percent) and fat-free milk. In addition, the snacks offered must be limited to those containing seven grams or less of fat (except for nuts and seeds), two grams or less of saturated fat and 15 grams or less of sugars (except for fruits). Carbonated beverages, candy of any type, donuts, honey buns and other “fatty foods” are prohibited from sale altogether.

“The MCPS food service department makes the menus and we, in the cafeteria, have to follow their guidelines specifically,” said Cafeteria Manager Robin Presley. “This year is the first year we must put the calorie and nutrition facts beside everything on the menu for the kids to see. That way they know what they’re getting.”

Even with the aim of slimming students down, it is still readily apparent that students reach for the less nutritional choice when selecting their lunch in the cafeteria line. Presley notes that while fresh fruit, mixed vegetables, carrots and other healthy options are offered, these items are often not picked and end up getting thrown away by the end of the day. Instead, foods like chicken patties and pizza remain the top sellers.

In fact, even though there are healthy options offered at school, nothing stops students from buying the unhealthy ones. “My favorite thing to get is pizza. I know it has a lot of grease and isn’t the most healthy thing to get, but it still tastes good,” said junior Abdoulie Jallow.

No matter how many healthy options are provided, students cannot be told what to eat. Presley noted that only about seven salads are sold daily, but countless burgers and pizzas are purchased. “Kids, and especially boys, will still take multiple portions and choose the more unhealthy foods,” she said. “However, with the variety of nutritious foods offered on the menu because of the guidelines we must follow, the kids now have the choice to pick things that are good for them.”