There’s a lot of talk about childhood obesity. And no one seriously doubts the link between fat-filled fast food grabbed at take-out restaurants and weight problems. But how do you begin to break the cycle that locks kids – particularly disadvantaged children in urban areas – into a fast food diet for life?
We believe education has to begin at home – but schools and communities also play a critical role.
Childhood nutrition has been an important focus for The Junior Leagues for decades, going back to the pioneering work done by the Junior League of Brooklyn, who recognized the importance of proper nutrition to learning, in successfully petitioning the New York City Board of Education to provide free lunches in schools in the early 20th Century, which became the model for the National School Lunch Program. Since then Junior Leagues have responded to the problems posed by food scarcity by opening milk stations and nutrition centers during the Great Depression to offering support for local food banks and Meals on Wheels programs today.
Several studies have revealed an interesting paradox, high prevalence of childhood obesity and malnourishment among those afflicted. The culprit: low-cost but energy-dense, low-nutritive foods and beverages. Lack of access to fresh foods because of distance to supermarkets with a variety of goods or lack of a means to reach those supermarkets leave families little choice but to fill up on these low-nutritive foods or to go without. The current economic recession has only made the problem worse and increased the rate of food insecurity.
Recognizing the link between obesity and food availability and the impact a lack of proper nutrition plays on learning, several Junior Leagues have partnered with local schools and food banks to tackle the problem together.
- The Junior League of Fort Collins works with the Poudre School District Snack Program to provide healthy snacks that members bundle and deliver to students participating in needs-based after-school programs at the district’s elementary schools.
- The Junior League of San Antonio’s Food in Tummies (FIT) program provides the entire student population (800+) of Baty Elementary School with packs full of healthy food along with bilingual recipe cards and nutrition tips every week during the school year. By feeding an entire student population at risk for food insecurity, the goals are improved school attendance school, improved body mass indexes (BMIs), and decreased mobility of families whose children take part in the National School Lunch Program.
- The Junior League of Lubbock’s Food 2 Kids program provides sacks of shelf-stable foods to pupils at the 18 neediest elementary schools in the area. The goal is to expand the program to all of the 40 elementary schools in Lubbock.
- The Junior League of Hartford’s signature project focuses on alleviating hunger through a weekend backpack program for 30 students at an elementary school in one of the city’s impoverished neighborhoods.
- The Junior League of San Angelo’s Food 2 Kids program delivers food twice a month to a local food bank to give to needy schoolchildren. With strong support from San Angelo organizations and businesses, the program is helping many children achieve better grades, perform better in class and remain more alert and willing to learn, according to their teachers, counselors, and at-risk coordinators.
- The Junior League of New Orleans’ Lagniappe Backpack Program provides schoolchildren who exhibit signs of malnourishment with backpacks filled with non-perishable food items for weekends and school holidays when they would otherwise not have regular nourishment.
- The Junior League of Sioux City’s Food Bank Backpack Program puts food sacks in the backpack of students on Fridays so that they will have nutritious and child-friendly foods to prepare and eat over the weekend.