Our Canadian neighbors to the north are experiencing similar health problems with their youth, specifically in Ontario. The Province reports that 28 percent of students between 2 and 17 are either overweight or obese. These stats are leading to a school lunch policy change that will go into effect on September 1, 2011.
This school year, candy, chocolate, soda, fries, and energy drinks will now be off limits on Ontario school property. These decisions were announced by the government as an effort to curb obesity and save money in future health care issues.
In addition to the ban on selling particular unhealthy items, the new policy requires that eighty percent of school meals include products with high levels of essential nutrients and low levels of fat, sugar, and sodium. Therefore only the remaining twenty percent of the meal can contain products with slightly higher levels of fat, sugar, and sodium, such as an option like bagels and cheese.
While these are positive steps, many believe it’s not enough to be effective. Due to the fact that many junk foods have been eliminated, the menu changes seem good, but a closer look indicates that the items still remaining are high in calories and those items in the other twenty percent of the meal are actually very high in sodium.
These school menu guideline changes for Ontario are taking place just as the United States has implemented menu changes too. The U.S. dealt directly with the calorie issue though, placing a maximum cap on consumable calories. The U.S. placed standards on the total amount of saturated fat, sugar, and sodium allowed. The U.S. also required that the amounts of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables be increased. These standards are to insure that children are meeting their dietary needs, especially due to the fact that nearly half of their daily calories are consumed at school.
When so many children across North America are struggling with weight and obesity issues, it’s good news that the problem is being addressed and actions are in place to help. It’s clear that neither the U.S. nor Ontario have made perfect solutions, however, the progress is a good first step. Hopefully this school year will mark the start of this epidemic being reversed.