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Stacking up the evidence against school lunches

Posted by Rob Anderson  January 23, 2011 07:39 PM

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At least one Boston.com reader wasn't convinced by today's editorial applauding the US Department of Agriculture for updating its guidelines for school meal programs. Commenter NevskyBaby took issue with the editorial's assertion that school lunches "share the blame" for childhood obesity among American school children. "Not to defend school lunch quality — a look at the menus online makes that impossible — but I'm surprised that the Globe has the nerve to print such an assertion," NevskyBaby wrote.

The Globe, however, isn't the first to make such an argument. It was actually made by a study funded by the USDA itself. That study, which was published in the Journal of Human Resources, followed 13,531 students and found that participation in the national school lunch program "was associated with a significant increase in the probability that a child would be obese by the third grade." While 11 percent of the children were overweight in kindergarten, 17 percent were overweight three years later.

Any non-believers should also check out the myriad websites and blogs dedicated to the subject. Best among them is The School Lunch Project, a blog written by an anonymous teacher who chronicled her experience eating lunch at school everyday in 2010. After 150 lunches — of things like plastic-looking pizza and "meatloaf" — Mrs. Q transforms from a casual chronicler to an aware advocate. Mrs. Q mostly provides anecdotal evidence, but it's compelling evidence nonetheless. Reading her blog from start to finish is like reading an obsessively chronicled memoir. I'm just glad I got to live vicariously through her, instead of having to eat this pock-marked cheeseburger myself.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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