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How America cultivated a generation of obesity

In 1972, a Las Vegas businessman named Len Frederick introduced a new kind of lunch to cash-strapped schools eager to see their cafeterias turn a profit. Instead of chicken or meatloaf, carrots and a carton of milk, students could eat hamburgers, hot dogs and French fries, and drink milkshakes or soda. All Frederick had to do to square his “combo meals” with national nutrition standards was fortify them with vitamins and add a sprinkle of wheat germ to the buns. Pickles counted as a required vegetable.

As historian Susan Levine recounts in her 2008 book “School Lunch Politics,” Las Vegas students lined up eagerly for the new fast-food-style menu, and the schools made money. But in 1978, a food critic found that given the freedom to pick and choose, most children weren’t getting the technically nutritious combo — they ended up with a lunch more like “two cinnamon buns and a Coke . . . four sugar cookies and a Sprite, or two bags of French fries and a milk shake.”

In hindsight, it’s easy to see the Las Vegas innovation as a harbinger of today’s fast-food-saturated environment and the nation’s childhood obesity problem — now so severe that some doctors predict that today’s kids will be the first in two centuries to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.

But back then, American policymakers were more concerned about undernourishing children than with overfeeding them. “Historically, the concern had always been lack of availability of food,” said historian Peter Stearns of George Mason University, “and work activities that were physically demanding.” As Levine notes, right up until the 1980s government standards set minimums on calories, protein and vitamins in school lunches. But they put no upper limits on calories or fat or sugar or salt.

The widespread alarm about childhood obesity is a relatively recent phenomenon, historians agree. But what’s not new is that political and economic interests time and again have trumped science and health concerns in shaping what we feed our kids and, consequently, in shaping our kids’ bodies.

Wave your flags, it’s the fourth of July

The 4th of July reminds us adults that we’re in free country! Kids, not so much . . .
Look at the flag – get small ones if you can. Colors? Stars? All have meaning, did you know?

The stripes = 13 = the number of original colonies
The stars = 50 = the number of states in our country
The colors = red, white, blue = Red: valor; White: innocence; Blue = Justice

*If you want, say together the Pledge of Allegiance: I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Think of all the activities for stripes and stars in red, white and blue! Many websites will tell you step by step instructions. I’m a big fan of providing materials and letting your kids create something from their imagination. So, my approach is to cut up strips of paper (stripes) and cut out stars, and let your kids create something marvelous. Provide glue, tape, scissors, and markers.

Links for more fun:

Fun School – games, printables and crafts for the 4th of July

Picture Scrambler Puzzles

Stars and Stripes toast

How Stuff Works crafts

Family Fun’s guide to crafts, food and fun

What are some of your favorite traditions/activities?