There are some truths in the realm of child nutrition that could keep you up at night.
From the impact of the pandemic on school food service to childhood obesity numbers climbing to record highs to the number of children currently living in hunger, the statistics are frightening indeed.
In this post, you’ll read some startling data about:
- Impact of COVID-19 on child nutrition
- Childhood obesity
- The health implications of childhood obesity
- Food deserts
- Children living with hunger
- Poor nutrition impacting academic achievement
What you may learn may not be for the faint of heart, yet it’s so important to understand how the nutrition of your students has an impact beyond their health—it can even affect whether they do well in school or ultimately land a job.
Impact of COVID-19 on Child Nutrition
- Since the beginning of the pandemic, an estimated 1.6 billion learners in 199 countries worldwide were affected by school closures, with nearly 370 million children not receiving a school meal in 150 countries. (Source: Unicef)
- Obesity rates in children have tripled over the last three decades.
- One in three children and adolescents 2-19 years old is overweight or obese.
- An overweight adolescent has a 70% chance of becoming an overweight or obese adult.
- Children 6 to 8-year-olds with obesity are approximately 10 times more likely to become obese adults than those with a lower body mass index.
- More than one in four 17- to 24-year-olds in the United States are now too heavy to serve in the military, a development that retired military leaders say endangers national security.
- Children with obesity are already demonstrating cardiovascular risk factors typically not seen until adulthood.
- Children and adolescents with obesity have a greater risk of social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood.
- Children with weight issues are more likely to miss school and repeat a grade than children who are at a healthy weight.
- About 90% of Americans eat more sodium than is recommended for a healthy diet.
- Empty calories from added sugars and solid fats contribute to 40% of total daily calories for 2–18 year olds and half of these empty calories come from six sources: soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza, and whole milk.
The Cost of Obesity
- We spend an estimated $190 billion every year to treat obesity-related conditions in America.
- Children with obesity have three times more healthcare expenditures than children at healthy weights, costing an estimated $14 billion every year.
- An unhealthy diet contributes to approximately 678,000 deaths each year in the U.S., due to nutrition- and obesity-related diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
- Amount the food industry spends on advertising and promotions to children each year: $1.8 billion.
- More than 11 million children in the United States live in “food insecure” homes.
- 1 in 7 children in the United States lives with hunger.
- More than 23 million Americans, including 6.5 million children, live in food deserts – areas that are more than a mile away from a supermarket.
The Impact of Poor Nutrition in Students
- Lack of adequate consumption of specific foods, such as fruits, vegetables, or dairy products, is associated with lower grades among students.
- Deficits of specific nutrients (i.e., vitamins A, B6, B12, C, folate, iron, zinc, and calcium) are associated with lower grades and higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness among students.
- Hunger due to insufficient food intake is associated with lower grades, higher rates of absenteeism, repeating a grade, and an inability to focus among students.
And Now for Some Good Child Nutrition Facts
Those stats are heavy, but it helps reinforce just how important of a role the school cafeteria plays in the lives of so many children. Don’t believe me? Check these facts out:
- A study by Urban Institute found that, when Universal Meals are offered, the students’ perception of safety increases at school.
- Children who participate in the NSLP eat greater amounts of healthy foods and have an overall better-quality diet.
- Student participation in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) School Breakfast Program (SBP) is associated with increased academic grades and standardized test scores, reduced absenteeism, and improved cognitive performance (e.g., memory).
- By 2025, it is estimated that healthy nutritional standards for all foods sold in schools will decrease the number of childhood obesity cases by more than two million.
- Kids are now choosing healthier foods and eat 16% more vegetables and 23% more fruit.
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom in the Child Nutrition Industry
The NSLP is one, tiny beacon of hope in the hellscape of childhood nutrition. Still, every meal makes a difference, particularly to children who live with hunger or survive on highly-processed foods outside of school.
To ensure you’re doing everything to serve nutritious and delicious meals to your students, it’s possible your nutrition management technology could use an upgrade. Here are some things to consider:
Use a Point of Service system that works where you do.
The pandemic shined a light on the importance of flexibility. Nutrition programs in particular need tools that work wherever and whenever so that meals can be served anywhere.
The Point of Service system from TITAN, a LINQ Solution is browser-based, so it requires no software installs on POS machines and you can turn almost any device into a portable POS. Better still: our POS operates in real-time and allows you to continue food service without an internet connection.
Make your child nutrition program easier on everyone – including your staff.
Ramp up participation in your school’s meals program by making it easy to register. Providing an online application makes it easier for students to enroll in the Free and Reduce program and saves your school a ton of paper.
Online payment apps reduce the amount of time you and your staff spend chasing down late payments and provide parents with easy lunch account management. In addition to offering an online application for the Free and Reduced program, having a system that makes it easier to manage the program is a win all around.
A school meals management system like LINQ’s TITAN System makes it possible to automatically crosscheck and eliminate duplicate applications, and makes it easy to track the students enrolled in the program in real-time.
Plan better school lunches.
Though the USDA and NSLP nutrient requirements have shifted quite a bit due to supply chain issues, these targets can be hard to track manually. A software that allows you to plan your meals and analyze the nutrients is key in serving nutritionally optimal meals to students.
The TITAN platform by LINQ makes nutrient management a cinch. When you build a menu, the system automatically updates the changes across the system; updates occur instantly in your production records, digital menu boards and menus on the Family Portal.
Staying organized, ease of participation, and impeccable meal planning are small but significant ways you can help meet the child nutrition needs of your students. Remember: you may be providing the only meal a child gets for an entire day. Let’s make it count.
What do the latest USDA waivers mean for your food service?
One of LINQ’s K‑12 nutrition experts explains what the latest USDA waivers mean for your nutrition program.