School is an important place to give children the tools to beat diabetes, both by creating awareness through education, and taking action by offering healthful whole foods and physical activities.
These objectives not only help to prevent diabetes, ensure overall health, and improve quality of life for children, but they also help strengthen families and communities.
Those in need
Tackling diabetes in schools is important because it is where children in the United States eat up to half of their daily calories. That can come through cafeteria food, vending machines, other food-selling points on campus, and food brought from home.
Approximately 32 million U.S. children receive daily free or government-subsidized meals at school, and minority populations represent a disproportionate amount of the students who depend on these government subsidies. American Indians/Alaska Natives (15.1%), African Americans (12.7%), Latin Americans (12.1%), and Asian Americans (8.0%) all have higher diagnosed type 2 diabetes prevalence than Caucasians (7.4%).
From the source
For decades, the free or subsidized food the government has sent to public schools has come from agricultural surplus, almost exclusively from large industrial farms and feedlots, which often follow unsustainable agricultural practices.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will often purchase and send whole foods — such as apples, raw potatoes, and raw chicken — to schools that do not have the infrastructure or budget to cook them onsite. Many of these schools send these relatively nutritious foods to food processors, which return unhealthful products like chicken nuggets, french fries, and sugar-sweetened applesauce back to the school.
Additionally, an abundance of commercially packaged processed foods and beverages are found in school cafeterias and vending machines, including soda, candy, and potato chips. Having these unhealthful foods available is damaging to children in the short-term, but also in the bigger picture as these food corporations look to create lifetime consumers.
Time for a change
Childhood obesity rates have tripled in the United States over the past three decades, as one out of three children is now either overweight or obese. Over 75 percent of overweight or obese children become overweight or obese adults, and over 85 percent of U.S. adults with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese.
The good news is that sustainable and integrated solutions for addressing the lack of whole and nutritious foods in schools do exist. One option is forming partnerships between schools and community-based farms and farmers, known as “community-based farm-to-school” programs. The Defeat Diabetes Foundation and many other organizations, institutions, cooperatives, and individuals are helping to make the concept more mainstream.
This integrated approach to healthful and mindful school eating can positively impact children, their families, and entire communities, and encourage environmental sustainability while helping to prevent diabetes.
Andrew P. Mandell, Executive Director, and Daniel Henryk Rasolt, Author, Defeat Diabetes Foundation, [email protected]