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TalkingNutrition

Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals

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School Lunch Programs, Nutrition Adequacy, and Sustainability

By Michael McBurney

How do we motivate children to eat more fruit and vegetables? We know they are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals with relatively few calories per serving. Really, this isn’t just a question about children. Why doesn’t everybody choose to more fruit, vegetables and whole grain foods? Around the world, leaders face the paradox of malnutrition coexisting in the same individuals as undernutrition and overweight-obesity. While current nutrition policy seems driven by an obsession to help constrain overweight-obesity by encouraging consumption of fruit and vegetables, is the policy sustainable and improving nutrition?

Just and Price evaluated the impact of U.S. federal guidelines on school lunch programs. They report that adding a serving of fruit or vegetables on every child’s school lunch tray is only effective when kids have a choice in the matter. When kids are attending schools requiring at least one serving of fruit and vegetables, there was no difference in consumption (vs schools without this policy). When kids had a choice, the percentage eating at least one serving increased from an abysmal 20% to 28%. But it is more disheartening to read that for every 1-2 kids eating fruit and vegetables, 5 throw them away. Seventy percent of the fruit and vegetables was being discarded. On average, school waste doubled. Dumping fruit and vegetables into garbage cans will not improve nutritional status. It will not help make for a more sustainable world.

Food waste is a big problem. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, writes in Huffington Post that 1/3 of the world’s food is wasted. We need to minimize food waste as part of the fight against poverty and hunger. He writes: “Wasting food also squanders resources like water, energy, fertilizers, and land. All of these things are growing more precious – and expensive. As the global population grows from 7 billion today to 9 billion in 2050.” The United Nations Environment Programme website Food Waste Facts notes that food waste is not just financial. There is a growing, even desperate need for nutrition and health policies that people will adopt, not throw out.

Call to action: Individuals, and populations, need to be assessed with validated biomarkers of nutritional status. Nutrition policy needs to be guided by more than guestimates of nutrient intake. Based on validated biomarker assessment, the degree of malnutrition is known.  When nutritional status of individuals isn’t constrained to a “statistical blackbox”, nutrition guidance can be personalized. While increasing consumption of nutrient-rich  foods is the preferred answer, some people may choose multivitamin supplements to correct nutritional gaps and as their contribution to sustainability. Regardless of personal choices with respect to nutrient sources (natural, organic, processed, local, non-GMO), the goal is to have more people with optimal nutrient status and less garbage. We may even be able to help 2.8 million children under 5y diet who are undernourished.  

Main Citation

Just D, Price J. Default options, incentives and food choices: evidence from elementary-school children. 2013 Publ Health Nutr doi: 10.1017/S1368980013001468

Provo AM. Towards sustainable nutrition for all: Tackling the double burden of malnutrition in Africa. 2013 Sight and Life Magazine 27(3)

Yong Kim, J. Food waste- a bigger problem than you thought. 2014 The Huffington Post Blog, Posted Mar 3/21/2014


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