Each Friday I compile a list that highlights five things you probably missed in the news that week and why you should care about them.
Here’s your list for the week of Oct. 31:
1. Childhood obesity rises in the summer
All too often schools are blamed for the childhood obesity problem. One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard since the release of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is that the rules take into account schools only, and that child nutrition programs were being villainized as the root of the obesity problem. A new study, however, shows that schools aren’t the problem at all—and they might not be the solution either. The study found that childhood obesity among schoolchildren increased the most during the summer months, when school is out and fewer children participate in the summer meals program. “It’s dispiriting how little progress we can see as a result of all these school-based fitness and nutrition programs,” Paul von Hippel, the lead author and an associate professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, told the New York Times. “But it makes sense if you believe that schools were never the problem to begin with. Nor can they be much of the solution.” The research proves what child nutrition directors have been saying all along: Changes to school meal programs are great, but they can only create lasting and impactful progress if everyone (from homes to fast food restaurants) gets on board.
2. Sushi and property taxes? One district’s meal options come under fire
Most of the times people complain about school food it’s because they perceive it as not being good enough. That’s not the case in Lower Merion schools in Pennsylvania, where the sale of sushi is under fire. Sushi was one of the district’s top sellers, turning a $26,000 profit for the foodservice department. But one man says the serving of sushi illustrates a larger issue: The district’s increased property tax. The man filed a lawsuit and had the 4.4-percent tax increase revoked, saying that when he went to school he ate beans and franks. While tax dollars are not used to pay for sushi (again, the item turned a profit), the man said the district hiked taxes and didn’t need the additional income. The district has more than $46 million in cash reserves (most of the money is allocated to projects and payments already), but there is $10 million that has yet to be committed to items in the district’s budget. Pennsylvania has tax caps at 2.4 percent, but that can be exceeded if an exemption is secured from the state department of education. The district defended its sushi saying, “We don’t offer spoonfuls of slop on plastic trays. If we did that, our foodservice department would go out of business.”
3. Districts losing money on vending machines
Following Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act rules, many districts are losing money on their vending machines, with one manufacturer saying districts’ vending machine sales are down 50 percent. The rules require vended items to meet certain nutritional standards (say goodbye to candy bars and soda). One Pennsylvania district has lost $100,000 in vending sales, while other districts have reported vending losses but increases in a la carte sales.
4. Student opens food pantry for needy students
One student at Alabama A&M has opened a food pantry after seeing his fellow students in need of help. Many colleges have opened food pantries and other programs to help students with food insecurity, but at Alabama A&M, the issue was a bit different. Students had trouble getting dinner because there weren’t options open on campus after 6 p.m., when many are still in class. The student started the pantry with his own money, offering items like ramen noodles, and he later added items like toilet paper and tissues. The pantry is open from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., and students can pick up three items twice a week. So far, 100 students have taken advantage of the pantry, which is run out of an old mailroom in the dorm where the student who started it lives. While I applaud the student’s initiative, it seems like an opportunity for dining services to provide some kind of service, even if limited, after 6 p.m.
5. UCLA to add flexitarian bar in dining hall
As dining providers look to add more plant-centric options to their menus, UCLA is taking it one step further and adding a flexitarian bar in one of its dining halls this January. Flexitarian dining is plant-forward with limited meat consumption. The bar will offer more vegetarian options, while meat in the other options is limited to constituting less than a fourth of the total dish.