High school students in a food crisis

October 14, 2009

High school students in a food crisis

As if high school isn’t already a pressure cooker, with the need to excel academically and be accepted socially, students in overcrowded schools face another unnatural influence in their lives—the spreading out of lunch time from before 9 a.m. to nearly 3 p.m. every day.

Now, it’s not only the nutritional content of school food that’s a problem, it’s the timing too. Since the facilities in desired schools are so overpopulated, many students are forced into schedules where they have to eat lunch too early (at a breakfast time) or too late (how can they concentrate in class with hunger pangs) to conform to their natural body rhythms.

At this crucial time in students’ lives—when their bodies are changing fast, their minds are constantly tested by competitive exams and college preparation, and they’re figuring out how to survive within their complex social networks—foodservice is doing them a great disservice. 

It’s tough enough, in our opinion at SupermarketGuru.com, for students to cope in ‘classrooms’ that are really trailers, or carved-out hallway spaces, or elbow-to-elbow in seats. It’s another extraordinary stress to not be able to eat each day of the school year the way they’ve been raised to eat as youngsters and teens, and the way they should eat once they reach college and beyond. We contend that pushing kids to eat burgers for breakfast, or keeping it possible for fries to continue to be the #1 food seller in schools (possibly because of speed and convenience as well as taste), and eat at unnatural times hampers their ability to achieve on many levels in the short-term, and dangerously sets them up for a potential lifetime of dietary failure.

A recent New York Times article detailed the foodservice pressures at Francis Lewis High School in Queens, which was built to serve 2,400 students, but has nearly 4,600 because its reputation and high graduation rate (81% vs. 56% citywide), specialized programs and desirable electives attract applicants from outside its geographic enrollment zone. It’s not the only one: “Last year, 41 high schools were more than 20% above capacity, up from 31 high schools two years earlier…nine of them, including Francis Lewis, were at least 50% overflowing,” the Times report said, citing the New York City Department of Education.

Combine this with the finding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that less than 10% of high school students in America eat their recommended daily requirement of fruits and vegetables, and this population is facing a food crisis. A national survey of about 100,000 students in 2007 found that 13% consume three or more vegetable servings daily, and 32% eat two fruit servings, but fewer than one in 10 get enough of both combined, according to an Associated Press account.

“This is a call for states, communities, schools and families to support increased fruit and vegetable consumption,” Heidi Blanck, a CDC senior scientist who worked on the report, told AP. We couldn’t agree more. It’s mandatory that we help teens manage their food intake better, and provide more intelligent choices for them particularly in schools—the sooner the better.