Eric Parmon 2005-2006 Winner
Young Steward of Public Policy
First Place Award 2005-2006
"School Lunches: A Student's Perspective"
By Eric Parmon
Hamilton High School
"Did you know that Arizona has the 19th-highest overweight levels for high school students in the nation? Add to that ranking pepperoni pizza dripping with artery-clogging grease, fried chicken encrusted with breaded lard, soggy French fries glistening with oil, and a sugary, caffeinated soda to wash it all down. Sounds like a heart attack just waiting to happen, right?
If you have a kid in high school, chances are that he or she eats food like this every day for lunch. After living through four years of high school (with my cholesterol levels in check), I have witnessed countless lunches consisting of a cheeseburger, fries and soda, just to name one of many possible unhealthy combinations. Because of this, I understand why we high school kids eat the way we do.
We eat the unhealthy food because it really is the only thing offered to us. At a public school I attended, one of the few healthy things a student can eat for lunch is a turkey sub sandwich with water for a drink. However, this is only one of the hundreds of combinations of lunches, of which the vast majority are unhealthy. So while health-conscious kids may decide to eat a healthy turkey sandwich for lunch, he or she can hardly be expected to eat it day in and day out. Any variety would invariably lead to one of the many unhealthy pitfalls, like a personal pan pizza or nachos with cheese. Therefore, a remedy to this specific cause would be to diversify the variety of healthy food, while decreasing the vast array of unhealthy food. Some possibilities are healthy fruit smoothies, fresh salads, and (taking a nod from the hugely successful Subway campaign) a plethora of low-fat sandwich options.
Another factor that plays into the decision-making process is the actual price of the food items themselves. Whereas a student can spend $2.50 on a turkey sub, he can also spend the same $2.50 for two slices of pizza. Or if the student is truly financially savvy, he or she may opt for a combo meal, consisting of a hamburger, fries, and soda, all for the same price of $2.50. So sure, the students can be healthy and get a sandwich, but what if they are especially hungry on a particular day? The combo meal is clearly the best value for the money, and healthy food is at a comparative premium. This point is illustrated perfectly with the choice of beverages—in this instance, a bottle of water will be compared with a can of soda. Looking around the lunchroom, one can clearly see that soda is the drink of choice for high school students. Not only does soda beat water in the taste department, it also only costs fifty cents per can, as opposed to the seventy-five cents for a bottle of water. Again, the students must pay a premium for a healthy lunch. Not only would the student have to sacrifice their taste buds when they make the decision to go healthy, they must also sacrifice their wallet. To remedy this problem, the healthy food must be made fiscally equal, if not more financially beneficial, than the unhealthy food. If given the choice of paying 50 cents for a soda or 75 cents for a bottle of water, a vast majority of students would opt for the former. However, if the prices were reversed, the student might reconsider.
Needless to say, an unhealthy diet can lead to dire results. According to webmd.com, obesity has been linked to several serious medical conditions, including heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, gallbladder disease and gallstones, osteoarthritis, gout, and breathing problems. Not surprisingly, obese children grow up to be obese adults. Since 33 percent of children are now obese in America (Centers for Disease Control), the sensible course of action would be to nip the problem, such as passing school food reforms. Given the obesity level of our students, this issue is pertinent to Arizona, causing state lawmakers to wrack their brains for an appropriate solution.
Legislation must be passed to simultaneously limit the extent of unhealthy food offered for school lunches, while increasing the variety of healthy choices. Also, students must not be forced to pay a premium for this new healthy food. Combine these two ingredients together, let it simmer for a few years, and Arizona will be served with a healthier and much more satisfying future."