What is the Connection Between School Lunches and Obesity?

Jacob Queen

School lunches and obesity have been connected due to certain studies of overweight children. The research suggests that children who take advantage of lunches provided at school are more prone to weight problems than children who bring a lunch from home or those who don’t eat school lunch. The reason for the connection between school lunches and obesity is a subject of heavy debate, but several scientists have theories and there are some obvious possibilities.

Potato chips are a high calorie snack frequently offered to children.
Potato chips are a high calorie snack frequently offered to children.

Studies of school lunches have shown that many of them have very high calories (kilojoules). There is a lot of variance between different school lunches in different areas, but in many cases, an average school lunch may be more than 500 calories (2 kilojoules), and some can be more than 800 calories (3.3 kilojoules). According to many experts, the average schoolchild needs about 1,200 to 1,800 calories (4 to 5 kilojoules) a day. That means that sometimes school lunches are providing more than half that total in a single meal, which could potentially cause the child to overeat by eating a normal-sized meal at home during the evening. According to many experts, this is the primary culprit in the connection between school lunches and obesity.

A deli meat sandwich is a healthier lunch option.
A deli meat sandwich is a healthier lunch option.

Some experts suggest that many parents don’t know their children are eating so much food at school. As a result, they make rather large dinners for their children and force them to eat even though they claim to be full. Some parents tend to be concerned that their children may not be eating enough, and this might be contributing to the connection between school lunches and obesity.

Students who bring bagged lunches from home tend to be thinner than those who buy school lunches.
Students who bring bagged lunches from home tend to be thinner than those who buy school lunches.

There are also other things that children get at school which may be worsening the problem. For example, some schools have vending machines and allow children to purchase soft drinks or other snacks. Many schools also offer chocolate milk as a drink choice when children purchase school lunches. These items can increase the overall calories (kilojoules) kids get at school beyond what they are getting in the school lunches themselves.

Crackers are a healthy snack option for school lunches.
Crackers are a healthy snack option for school lunches.

One reason school lunches are so large is because they are often considered a primary way for the government to fight malnutrition and hunger. Some children from poor families get most of their nutrition from their school lunches during certain times of the year, and many poor families rely on school lunches as a cheap way to feed their children when times are difficult. For this reason, there is often hesitancy among governments to cut portion sizes.

Schools are trying to offer healthier snack options to combat childhood obesity.
Schools are trying to offer healthier snack options to combat childhood obesity.
Schools who serve lunches containing pizzas and burgers are contributing to cases of childhood obesity.
Schools who serve lunches containing pizzas and burgers are contributing to cases of childhood obesity.
Milk is a healthy alternative to soda.
Milk is a healthy alternative to soda.
Individual cheeses can be included in a bagged school lunch for added protein and calcium.
Individual cheeses can be included in a bagged school lunch for added protein and calcium.
Packing a bottle of water instead of a soda can help children with obesity.
Packing a bottle of water instead of a soda can help children with obesity.

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