A problem with lunches in U.S. schools is their poor nutritional quality. Most schools provide processed foods which are high in fat, salt and sugar. This is already having a major adverse impact on children’s health. Unhealthy school lunches can lead to diseases such as obesity, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and liver disease.
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The American Heart Association estimates that around one in three children and adolescents in the United States are overweight or obese. This puts childhood obesity in the No. 1 spot for children’s health problems. Unhealthy school lunches play a significant role because many of them contain foods that are high in saturated fats; foods such as French fries, fried chicken, pizza, hotdogs and processed cheese. Obesity can lead to other diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, as well as promoting a negative body image and low self-esteem.
Processed foods, such as those found in some school lunches, tend to be high in sodium. The American Heart Association reports that diets high in sodium can lead to heart disease as well as high blood pressure and stroke. Foods high in sodium that are likely to be found in school lunches include condiments such as salad dressings and ketchup, tomato sauce, canned foods and prepackaged food mixes.
Over the past 10 years, the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children has increased by 150 percent. Unhealthy school lunches may be a contributing factor because many processed food are high in fructose and corn syrup, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Children who eat school lunches comprising mostly processed foods are at elevated risk for fatty liver disease. Processed foods such as white rice, foods containing refined flour and whole grains which have been processed can cause the body to release insulin more rapidly than it is needed. This increases fat deposition on the body and in the blood and the liver. The main culprits are processed foods that are high in starch such as foods containing white flour and white rice, and foods containing whole grains that have been overrefined.