My friend gave a guest presentation at a local high school last week and was invited to stay for lunch. “Horrible,” was her description of the meal. “I appreciated the generous invitation, and I’m sure the lunch ladies worked hard, but it was awful. Pizza, totally tasteless chicken sandwiches and fried food — that’s what we offer our children at school.”
Any parent who has peered into their school cafeteria’s garbage can to see what children throw out knows my friend is right. But it’s not for lack of caring on the part of school nutritionists. The amount of funding they receive for school meals is ridiculously low and not been updated for years. Fruits and vegetables are reimbursed at 10 cents a day, and the state school meal reimbursement rates haven’t changed since 1981.
But panels of legislators, medical experts, school dieticians, educators, agency staff and others have been working this year to change the situation. They are motivated largely by the high and increasing rates of overweight and obese adults in Wisconsin.
Obesity’s significance for health is clear. Being obese or overweight increases one’s risk of chronic diseases like hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and osteoarthritis. Our state’s annual obesity-related medical costs were estimated in 2004 to be $1.5 billion.