The health damage associated with excessive sugar consumption is a topic that seems to attract considerable scientific attention. It is well-established that immoderate sugar intake among children and adolescents is associated with numerous health conditions and illnesses such as obesity and cardiovascular diseases (Winpenny et al., 2017). This significant public health challenge necessitates thorough investigation, as it might have several contributing factors, among which are schools. Research conducted by Lengyel et al. (2015) and outlined in “Sugar In School Breakfasts: A School District’s Perspective” elaborates on these educational institutions’ role in the problem of excessive sugar consumption. The researchers also strive to provide the school food services’ perspective on the issue and present possible solutions for decreasing sugar reduction in school breakfasts.
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Child obesity in the country prompted the adoption of national guidelines aimed to alleviate the problem. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) (2010) directs food consumption in schools and their nutrition services’ work and products – the act might have overlooked the sugar intake in breakfast leading ultimately to parents’ outrage in Houston ISD (Lengyel et al., 2015). Improvement of children’s health via changing school food meets several obstacles, as “the current breakfast meal pattern requires a minimum of one full cup of fruit, one full cup of milk, and one ounce whole grain offered each day” (Lengyel et al., 2015, p. 3). These essential breakfast items fulfill the calories count mainly by adding carbohydrates, complicating the process of harmonizing sugar intake, and daily caloric needs. In this aspect, Houston ISD Food Services effectuate a complicated mission – their First Class Breakfast program and serving methods (offer vs. serve) are designed considering the need to decrease sugar intake (Lengyel et al., 2015). Thus, schools happen to be in a challenging situation, where national standards set by HHFKA require them to disregard protein or fat and concentrate on sugar for the breakfast menu.
Another issue that Houston ISD Nutrition Services face is the inability to differentiate between added and natural sugar. This problem emerged due to inadequate labeling that does not define the type of sugar used. Additionally, with the requirement initiated in 2014 to enhance fruit offerings (but without budget changes), the overall breakfast quality was endangered (Lengyel et al., 2015). To still provide healthy food to its financially disadvantaged students, Houston ISD Food Services concentrated on establishing a dialogue with manufacturers, purchasing products with higher fiber concentration, and cooking some items in-house (Lengyel et al., 2015). According to the article, the possible solution to lower the sugar intake would be changing federal policies that trapped schools between the need to meet calorie count and use products rich with carbohydrates for breakfast menus (Lengyel et al., 2015). It further alludes that parents and the interested general public should be the source of the initiative for alternations in food standards (Lengyel et al., 2015). Conclusively, the principal causes of possible elevated sugar intake from school breakfasts could be incompetent national policies, lack of detailed product labeling regarding included sugar, and budget constraints.
The source’s argument seems relatively well-supported by guidelines found in HHFKA and studies concerning childhood and adolescent nutrition. It is necessary for an array of schools, especially similar to those in Houston ISD, whose student population comes from the unprivileged socioeconomic background, to serve meals, only calories source for many. Nevertheless, unhealthy nutrition in the long-term can cause more harm than damage, laying a foundation for numerous health conditions. Longitudinal research shows that sugar intake tends to decrease with age – schools play an essential role in this process (Winpenny et al., 2017). Federal nutritional standards put schools in an uncomfortable position, where they do not have enough possibilities to rectify oversights in HHFKA and are restricted by them.
Moreover, schools became the principal target for parents’ indignation and complaints. The article’s estimations about the extent to which particular schools can influence HHFKA and similar policies seem to be correct. If caregivers want to reduce sugar intake, a communal effort is necessary, “parents can impact the nutrition standards by providing feedback during USDA public comment periods for the School Breakfast Program and voicing opinions to local, state, and federal policymakers” (p. 11). On the other hand, a recent study performed by Kenney et al. (2020, p. 1129) concludes that the act might be associated with a decrease in obesity risk by forty-seven percent among school-age children living in low income households. Since the article under consideration serves, to a degree, as a line of defense from angered parents, the arguments presented, from my perspective, rationalize breakfast menus in Houston. The limitations posed by the federal government restrict healthy nutrition options and put schools under attack.
Generally, the effects of HHFKA on public health appear to be debatable since research demonstrates the described decrease in obesity. If this statistical data reflects reality fully, the parents’ reaction that partially led to the article’s creation could have been somewhat unjustified. Nonetheless, the article manages to defend the schools’ perspective providing factual information from the original directives. However, despite these restrictions, school food services in Houston ISD found ways to satisfy children’s nutritional needs.
Kenney, E. L., Barrett, J. L., Bleich, S. N., Ward, Z. J., Cradock, A. L., & Gortmaker, S. L. (2020). Impact of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act on obesity trends. Health Affairs, 39(7), 1122–1129.
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Lengyel, J. G., Cramer, N., Oceguera, A., Pigao, L., Houston Independent School District, & Nutrition Services Department. (2015). Changes sugar in school breakfasts: A school district’s perspective. Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk, 6(2), 1–13.
Winpenny, E. M., Penney, T. L., Corder, K., White, M., & van Sluijs, E. M. F. (2017). Changes in consumption of added sugars from age 13 to 30 years: A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Obesity Reviews, 18(11), 1336–1349.