School Cafeteria’ Promotion of Unhealthy Diet

Introduction

As a student at Pierce College, I have come to realize that the dietary practices that an individual adopts play a huge role in their physical and mental well being. Healthy eating is the biggest contributing factor to an individual’s well being and it is associated with an increased quality of life as well as longer life expectancy. Most students depend primarily on the food that is served by the cafeteria to fulfill their dietary needs. The quality of food served therefore has a far-reaching impact on all students in the college. A major problem in Pierce College is that students are served with unhealthy food like French fries and pizza on a daily basis at the cafeteria. This unbalanced diet affects both the physical and the educational performance of the students.

The Pierce College Cafeteria Problem

The college cafeteria primarily serves fast foods to the students. As a matter of fact, fast foods are the biggest culprits in promoting unhealthy eating habits among youths. Fast food, by definition, is “designed for ready availability, use, or consumption with little consideration given to quality or significance” (Freeman 2225). The major fast foods consumed by youths in schools include: hamburgers, French fries and pizza. In most cases, the attraction with these fast foods is that they take very little time to prepare which greatly appeals to the schools which are in most cases hard pressed for time. Additionally, junk food is relatively low priced compared to healthier meals which not only take longer to prepare but also cost more.

However, the fast foods consumed contain trans fats which have been linked to increased risk of heart diseases and have also been grossly implicated other health conditions including obesity and diabetes. In addition to this, fast foods contain excessive amounts of fats, sugars and cholesterol; all which are associated with obesity and heart problems. Fast foods are also known to be prepared from saturated oils that are mostly reused over a period of days thus making them vulnerable to bacteria.

The food offered at the college cafeteria has a negative bearing on the psychological well being of the students. In their study Food consumption frequency and perceived stress and depressive symptoms among students in three European countries, Mikolajczk et al. reveal that “Dietary habits are a major aspect of people’s lifestyles that influence health, morbidity, and mortality for a range of conditions” (1). Research conducted by Mikolajczyk on Food consumption frequency and perceived stress and depressive symptoms among students revealed that there was an association between the consumption of sweets/fast food and higher perceived stress levels (5). Fast foods increase stress and depression which result in lower performance by students.

The eating habits established in the youthful years including preference for and reliance on fast food may place students at future risk for higher fat and energy intake as they move into adulthood. In their article, Nutritious or Delicious? The Effect of Descriptive Norm Information on Food Choice, Burger et al suggest that “social factors play an important role in how people eat”. The presence of fast foods in Pierce College’s cafeteria encourages students to engage in unhealthy diets. This is because students are influenced by others in their dietary decisions. This predisposes them to increased sedentary behavior and excess weight gain which will impact negatively on their quality of life.

Proposed Solutions

It has been extensively documented that the quality of food available in schools is of low nutritional value and unhealthy as it is mostly made up of snacks, fast foods and sodas. Key to solving the problem is an overhaul of the school nutrition program. For this plan to work, the support of the parents, policy makers and especially the staff at school would be most crucial. This is because the funding of healthy eating programs is both expensive and would incur some resistance from supporters of vending machines and fast foods.

There is a general lack of educational programs on balanced diet in the school curriculum. School based programs can play an important role in promoting healthy eating lifestyle. Nutrition education is also fundamental to the success of any healthy dietary promotion efforts. The school environment should be consistent with the value of healthy food choices that youths are taught in the class setting.

The college should also come up with policies that outline the provision of comprehensive, standards-based nutrition education that is integrated throughout the school curriculum. The rationale behind this move is that even if students are obliged to take up health food choices in the school setting due to the programs in place, it will be of little help if they are not equipped to make health food choices outside of the school environment.

Some people suggest that the school cafeteria adjusts to the demands of the students and as such, the food served is a reflection of what students want. This argument is further reinforced by the fact that while Pierce College cafeteria does have a salad bar and some healthy foods, few students are inclined to purchase these products. The very presence of fast foods undermines the health foods since fast foods are not only cheaper but also sweater. Research by Frary et al indicated that the number of fruit and vegetable intakes by children decreased as intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages increased (61). It can therefore be inferred that decrease in junk foods and sodas will result in an increase in healthier food intake.

Another argument offered in favor of fast foods is that they bring in much needed money to the institute. This is because corporate sponsors such as McDonalds and Pepsi pay to have their products in the school cafeteria.

Schools are in most cases forced to rely on these revenue from the large corporate sponsors due to poor funding by the federal government. The profit from selling fast food items in high school cafeteria helps to fund extracurricular programs and athletics. While there is no doubt that corporate sponsors assist schools financially, this must not be at the expense of students health. Students’ health must take precedence over this money making schemes. As such, sale of unhealthy foods in school must be all together stopped or else provisions must be put in place to set nutritional standards for these products.

Conclusion

The school environment as it currently stands encouraged poor dietary habits amongst students. Considering the long term nutrition and health consequences of poor dietary choices, major changes should be implemented in Pierce’s cafeteria. In this paper, I have proposed solutions which I am certain if implemented can address the unhealthy dietary habits of students. While it is conceivable that this changes will come at a cost, the solutions will result in the improved health of the students which will be beneficial to their educational efforts on the short run and improve the quality of their lives in the long run.

Works Cited

Burger, Jerry et al. “Nutritious or Delicious? The Effect of Descriptive Norm Information on Food Choice”. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. New York: 2010. Vol. 29, Iss. 2; pg. 228, 15 pgs.

Frary, Carol et al. “Children and Adolescents’ Choices of Foods and Beverages High in Added Sugars Are Associated With Intakes of Key Nutrients and Food Groups”. Journal of Adolescent Health 2004; 34:56-63.

Freeman, Andrea. Fast Food: Oppression Through Poor Nutrition. California Law Review, 2007. Print.

Mikolajczyk, Rafael et al. “Food consumption frequency and perceived stress and depressive symptoms among students in three European countries”. Nutrition Journal 2009, 8:31.