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Are School Lunches to Blame for Obesity Epidemic?

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- On average, American school children will eat more than 2,300 lunches over the course of their primary and secondary educations. If they are opting into school lunch programs, much of their long-term nutrition is dictated by the choices the school district provides.

“Study after study has shown that children who eat school lunches consume more calories on average than children who pack their lunch,” said Dr. Lewis Kohl, associate medical director for the Mount Kisco Medical Group.

Nationwide, approximately 12.5 million – or 17 percent – children and adolescents between ages 2 to 19, are obese, according to data from the National Health and Examination Survey. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines childhood obesity as having a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex. The CDC regards a child as overweight if his or her BMI falls between the 85th and 95th percentiles.

“The problem in Westchester is that no one walks. We drive everywhere,” Kohl said. “Adults need to be more active and the kids will follow. The number of obese people in our society is startling. We're facing an obesity epidemic.”

In 2007, the National Conference of State Legislatures found that 32.9 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 in New York qualified as overweight or obese. While this ranking is lower than some states, it still shakes out to more than one quarter of the state's children in fifth through twelfth grades have a medically diagnosable weight problem.

“Historically, schools have not done a great job at providing healthy meal options and making those healthy options appealing to students. However, the schools in Chappaqua have been integrating whole wheats instead of processed flour foods,” said Kohl. “Our schools are starting to offer healthier options for our students.”

According to the CDC, overweight and obese kids are at increased risk of multiple health problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and fatty liver disease. This is to say nothing of the potential psychological effects of being an overweight child. Additionally, the CDC finds that children who are overweight are more likely to become overweight or obese adults.

“While school lunches should be the focus, we also need to make sure if schools have vending machines they are also stocked with healthy options. Students that go to the vending machines two or three times a day to get sugary drinks – and junk food add up calories quickly,” said Kohl.

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