First lady Michelle Obama’s school lunch program is making the poorer children it’s supposed to help more likely to become overweight, according to new government-funded research.
Virginia Tech researchers tracked financially vulnerable kids who got free school meals from kindergarten to eighth grade and found those feasting on government meals were more likely to become overweight. Children with the highest chance of being overweight or obese consumed one-third to one-half of their daily meals at school, according to the study, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“While well-intentioned, these government funded school meal programs that are aimed at making kids healthy are in fact making participating students more at risk of being overweight,” Dr. Wen You, a professor at Virginia Tech who authored the research, said in a statement.
Researchers used a survey of 21,260 students who were followed from kindergarten to eighth grade, and also controlled for the self-selection and income effects to examine a school meal program’s influence on student’s weight. The study found children who didn’t participate in school free meals were less likely to be overweight or obese than those getting free meals.
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“This study identifies the hardest battles in crafting policy to alleviate children in low-income populations being overweight,” You said. “We found that the longer children were in the programs, the higher their risk of being overweight.”
You’s research, published in the academic journal Health Economics, found that long-term participation in the school lunch program supported by Michelle Obama was a major risk factor for being overweight.
Obama has led a public health campaign since 2010 called “Let’s Move!” aimed at reducing childhood obesity to 5 percent by 2030. The overall rate of obesity hasn’t changed much since 2008. Some of that data researchers examined, however, was published before Obama’s school lunch program took effect and before anti-obesity legislation was passed.
Let’s Move! encouraged school children to eat healthier food and exercise more, but hasn’t proven popular among students. Students in Kentucky, for example, said the food approved by Obama “tastes like vomit,” and many local officials have said it has been hard getting kids to eat their lunches.
The latest data on kid fitness suggests that 75 percent of kids between the ages of 12 to 15 fail to meet the federal government’s minimum recommendations of at least an hour of vigorous activity each day.
Another study, led by Duke University scientists, studied data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found that the percentage of overweight and obese children between two and 19 years old has increased across the board since 1999. The Duke study found that in the 1999-2000 school year, 27.5 percent of all children between two and 19 years old were considered overweight. That increased to 31.8 percent in the 2011-2012 school year, and 33.2 percent in the 2013-2014 cohort.
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