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May 18, 2017 3:11 PMCategory: Nutrition, Physical Activity

School Lunches Are Too Short – How Schools and Parents are Pushing Back

Education is an area that has seen rapid changes over a short time period. The public school system has it’s origins as far back as 1635, long before the United States of America, was as we know it today. However, our education system as we know it today, is relatively young.

Our education system has undergone some significant changes in curriculum, testing, and other areas. In order to perform better on the increased state testing and performance measures, schools have been shortening lunch to make up time.

For elementary school students, the average lunch is 25 minutes and for middle and high school students, the average lunch is 30 minutes, which includes standing in line to get lunch and cleaning up. That leaves an average of just about 10 minutes for students to eat.

What are the negative effects of shorter lunch periods?

  • Students who have shorter lunch times and rushed eating habits have seen the detrimental effects, which can include obesity. The ideal time to eat for students is 20 minutes. It allows social interaction and time for their body to signal that they are full.
  • Rushed lunch times waste more food. According to a Harvard study, students who had less time to eat, ate less of the healthy foods on their plates. This food then ends up in the trash.

Parents and educators push back

As parents have noticed the effects of short lunch periods on their students and children, they have advocated for extended lunch periods and gotten few results. Multiple studies have determined that students are not having enough time to eat and are wasting their healthier food items. Unfortunately, it was determined that in areas where the population was more likely to qualify for free or reduced lunch, lunch times were even shorter.

These studies have called for lengthening lunch periods, but school districts quote the requirements for instructional time as a barrier.

A principal in Arizona, Chris Lineberry, decided to rethink how students ate and received physical activity. Lineberry extended the recess period and incorporated physical activity into the classroom instructional time. Students also have 30-35 minutes for lunch, which comes after a long recess, so students have an appetite when it is time to eat. Teachers also sit down with their students to eat. After implementing this new system, Lineberry saw three years worth of academic growth in a 2-year period.

To read more about the fight for longer lunch periods, see the article: School Lunches are Too Short. And That’s a Problem.

The article provides interesting insights into how local school systems are an integral piece of changing the policy, systems, or environments surrounding nutrition and physical activity for children. By incorporating the school system as a vehicle for change, members of the Partnering4Health coalition were able to create change within the existing school structure to increase physical activity. The American Heart Association’s Accelerating National Community Health Outcomes through Reinforcing (ANCHOR) Partnerships Program achieved boosting physical activity levels among students in Beaverton, Oregon. The ANCHOR team provided technical assistance, training, and access to resources to help the teachers identify additional opportunities to get kids moving throughout the school day.

For more information about the ANCHOR program, check out the American Heart Association website. If you’re interested in learning more about the work of the Partnering4Health project, including Plan4Health, view this presentation.

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