One meal at a time: Why health advocates are focusing on school lunches

06/24/2014 07:52 AM

Health advocates and a policy makers agree that key to improving Kentucky’s health starts with education about nutrition and initiatives to better ingratiate healthy options into the lives of Kentuckians, starting in state schools.

Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky President Susan Zepeda says that the transition made by America to make school lunch rooms into profitable businesses instead of focusing on nutrition has had a harmful effect on younger generations.

But as the student’s meals have changed from the standard fare of school lunches, some schools are seeing students do not like the lunches and are throwing them away.

That was the point made by Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, when the lunches were debated during a U.S. House appropriations sub panel in May.

“The problem is the kids are saying they don’t want this. You are trying to force them to eat things they don’t want, and they go elsewhere,” Rogers said.

Zepeda argues that education about nutrition has to be at the center of the changes taking place in order to engage students about the importance of healthier meals.

“If we saw kids throwing out the tooth brushes after we taught them how to brush and floss, we wouldn’t stop teaching them how to brush and floss in schools,” Zepeda said (at 6:00). “Sometimes as grown ups and parents we have to nudge the children we are responsible for in a healthier direction.”

To illustrate her argument in favor of the new school lunches, Zepeda told a personal story about her childhood and how she learned about the importance of nutrition.

“My mother got a pressure cooker when I was a young and tender age and I thought all vegetables were soft and mushy and didn’t taste like much. Then when I got a little older, I got responsible for picking the corn and picking the tomatoes and picking the pea pods and I discovered that raw vegetables tasted pretty darn good, “ Zepeda explained.

Zepeda said the key to changing the way young Kentuckians view health is to adjust the palate away from fats and sugars to the “natural wonderful tastes of the foods we grow right here in Kentucky.”

Health issues are very prevalent in the eastern region of the state where state Representative Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, resides.

Combs said the need for nutritional education is high in her area and after a recent heart attack of her own, Combs has been seeking ways to make improvements in the health issues the state faces.

When it comes to the overall health of the state, Combs said she believes the access to fast food and lack of physical activity play a huge role in the issues in her region, and she believes it is the job of legislators to help their constituents with these issues.

“I think we need to work a lot on our role and in our capacity with our region to say ‘we got to get this obesity rate down,’” Combs said (at 4:00). “In our issue that is huge because that ties itself to the high rate of diabetes that we’ve got. We still have a lot of smokers in our region and this is a direct correlation between the health issues we’ve got and the obesity brings itself into the heart issues.”

In the interview, Combs also talks about the things she has learned from her heart attack and what she wants to tell other women about the warning signs as well as her experience with the health care providers in her region.


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