Healthy living seems difficult for most of us, and the unappetizing food and exercise it requires makes us wonder if it’s actually worth it. However, we must remind ourselves that living a healthy lifestyle is adds years to our life and reduces the risk of certain diseases. In recent years, Hawaii has made a commitment to support healthy living habits among students in schools. Since 2011, all 255 Hawaii public, non-charter schools are required to meet the Wellness Guidelines- a set of standards which addresses health issues, nutritional guidelines, health and nutrition education, and physical education and activity. For a student, this means healthier lunches and mandatory PE and Health classes.
But are these guidelines actually effective in maintaining healthy living among students, and are schools even following these guidelines? The answer is a tentative yes for both, based on statistics released by the Hawaii Department of Education and Health.
Every school year, the DOE releases scores for how well Hawaii public schools are following the Wellness Guidelines based on the Safety and Wellness Survey (SAWS). The Wellness Guidelines scores for the school year 2015-2016 were around 70-100% in terms of schools’ wellness committees, nutritional guidelines, health and nutrition education, and physical education.
For example, Hawaii public schools have received a score of 100% for the guideline, “Meals feature fresh and minimally processed fruits and vegetables from local sources to the greatest extent possible.” These nutritional guidelines may also be linked to the decreasing obesity rates among high school students, which dropped from 14.5% in 2009 to 12.9% in 2015.
However, the study also indicates that most foods and beverages sold or served to students at school or school-sponsored events do not comply with USDA Dietary Guidelines, as public schools have received an overall score of 35%.
Kaiser High School did not meet this guideline, perhaps because the USDA guidelines are a bit more restrictive than the state’s guidelines. For example, USDA dietary guidelines recommends eating a variety of protein foods (lean meats, beans, eggs, seafood), which are not easy to include in school lunches. It also should be noted that USDA dietary guidelines stress the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables, which are not commonly found in school lunches (but becoming more apparent in Kaiser’s recent lunches).
However, the main question is whether the guidelines are worth following completely. Making an appetizing lunch is extremely important: having a healthy meal won’t do any good if students don’t even eat it. In fact, it exacerbates the problem as skipping meals can be detrimental to one’s health, according to the New York Times article, “The Risks and Rewards of Skipping Meals.” Once skipping meals becomes a habit, your body might turn to your muscles as a fuel source, decreasing your metabolism and sapping your strength. It also leads to increased fasting glucose levels and a delayed insulin response, which could lead to diabetes if it becomes a regular practice.
Thus, finding that balance between a healthy lunch and one that students actually want to eat is far more beneficial to students’ nutritional health. This balance is becoming far more apparent in our school lunches as our lunches now have fresh fruits and vegetables, less sugar, more spices like garlic and basil, and far more variety in the salad bar – changes that students have been welcoming. Last year, counts were low for Kaiser: out of 1100 students, only 22% bought lunch. Now, about 38% of students buy lunch.
In short, finding that perfect balance between guidelines and what students want is what will help schools promote good nutrition. While guidelines are certainly necessary for schools to have a good basis on how to promote better health overall, just blindly following these guidelines without considering the students’ opinions can actually be detrimental to students. In terms of student nutrition, Kaiser is getting closer to finding this balance, helping students live healthier lives.