Schools need to provide children with healthy lunches.

The concern about junk food in elementary schools continues to grow along with the childhood obesity epidemic. Is enough being done to help our children develop good eating habits and to protect their health? Although some school cafeterias have started serving healthier meals, more could be done to reduce the amount of junk food available to elementary school children.

Promoting Healthier Food

Children should eat fresh vegetables every day.

In 2012, the Obama administration revamped the nutrition standards for foods served in schools. School are mandated to provide more vegetables and fruits, reduced-fat milk and whole grains, while reducing the amount of unhealthy junk food. Some schools are displaying healthy-eating posters in the cafeteria to remind students to make healthier food choices. Others are increasing healthy-eating awareness in health classes.

Junk Food Still Available

The new regulations address only part of the problem. For example, french fries, which are often high in salt and oil, are served in school cafeterias and count as a serving of vegetables. Eating french fries on a regular basis could lead to health problems. Baking them instead of frying is one option, but it is not a requirement in schools. Further, school fundraisers often include selling chocolate bars, and some elementary school teachers give candy to students as a reward for positive behavior. Students may even have access to vending machines on school grounds that sell soda and candy.

Problems Caused by Junk Food

Children are developing health problems due to excessive consumption of unhealthy food.

Children need to eat healthy diets to maintain optimum health.The childhood obesity rate has steadily increased over the last decade. In addition to obesity, children are being diagnosed with high blood pressure, which is linked to obesity. Removing junk food from schools and improving the quality of school lunches could help reduce obesity. In fact, a study by Bridging the Gap found a link between strong nutrition standards for school lunches and lower obesity rates, according to lead author of the study, Daniel Taber, PhD.

What Can Parents Do?

Parents should pack healthy lunches for their children.

Do not be afraid to push for healthier school-lunch options at the local level. Teach your child proper nutrition at home and set the example by preparing healthy meals and snacks at home. Send lunch to school with your child and request that your child's teacher avoid giving candy, cookies or edible treats to your son or daughter. Talk with the principal and the parent-teacher association of your child's school about banning junk-food vending machines.