Stop with all the snacking, advises Amanda Kolson Hurleyin a Washington Post blog.

Half of American kids snack four times a day, according to a 2010 study, she writes. “On average, kids are consuming 600 calories a day from snacks, 168 more than they did in 1977 (you know, back when strollers didn’t have little food trays attached to them).” 

Her 9-year-old sometimes snacks in class, again at his after-school program and a third time when he gets home. Sometimes he skips lunch and isn’t hungry for dinner. It’s all about the snacks.

Parents “walk around with trail mix and Sun Chips stuffed in our bags like we‘re mobile, no-fee vending machines,” writes Hurley, who admits to being a snacking enabler herself.

Every group activity includes snack time, often with a snack schedule for mothers.

One mother I know pushed back when the self-appointed “snack coordinator” at her daughter’s preschool tried to institute a second snack in addition to the pretzels and juice the kids were already served. Preschool ran from 9 to noon. My friend didn’t see why the children would need more than one snack to tide them over until lunch.

The child obesity rate has doubled over the past 30 years, Hurley notes. Raising kids to expect frequent snacks — at the expense of meals — isn’t helping.

Madison schools serve free dinners

Some public schools in Madison, Wisconsin are serving a free dinner to  students who participate in after-school programs.  That’s in addition to federally subsidized breakfast, lunch and post-school snacks, which are free only for children from low- and moderate-income families.

Just before 5 p.m. Wednesday, as Falk Elementary’s Safe Haven after-school program was winding down, students lined up to wash their hands for dinner.

The menu for the Madison School District’s new dinner program included turkey sandwiches, fruit cups, broccoli and chocolate milk.

It’s healthier food than the soda, sugary candy, snacks and fast food some students will eat before going to evening activities or homes with working parents who prepare later meals, after-school program director Kelly Zagrodnik said.

If the school has enough low-income students, then all students in after-school programs are eligible for a free meal, regardless of family income.  Federal funds — $2.86 per meal — cover the cost.

Mayor Paul Soglin wants free dinners at all schools to entice children to sign up for after-school program, which include “access to tutors, mentors, study skills sessions, supervised recreation and sports.”

Are there families who’d pass up after-school activities — and free child care — unless their kid could get a 5 pm dinner?

A student could eat breakfast at home, breakfast at school, lunch, after-school snack, early dinner at school and late dinner at home.  No wonder  childhood obesity is our greatest national security threat.

Or perhaps parents are supposed to stopped feeding their children at home, so the school can do it better.

Madison is a relatively affluent town, writes Ann Althouse.

Boston schools give free breakfast for all

Boston public schools are now serving free breakfasts to all students, regardless of family income, reports the Boston Globe. Some “set aside time in first period or homeroom for students to finish” eating.

A study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital in 2000 measured the impact of school breakfasts in 16 Boston public schools. The results: Increasing student participation in school breakfast programs also improved nutrition, school attendance, emotional functioning, and math grades.

Some schools serve breakfast in the classroom, alternating between cold cereal and a hot meal.

 Sitting in a quiet classroom, Konnor Mason, 9, sat ripping apart his orange while engrossed in a book. He eats breakfast at home just after he wakes up — “my mom wakes me up at 6 for no apparent reason,” proclaimed the precocious fourth-grader — but by the time he starts school at 9:30 a.m., his stomach has already begun rumbling.

In the past, he didn’t qualify for free breakfasts. Now, he can enjoy the classroom snacks every morning.

I suspect quite a few kids will eat breakfast at home and at school, which can’t help the fight against childhood obesity.

My nutritionist stepdaughter is designing lunches for the Boston public schools as part of her new job. Working with a chef, she came up with a tasty, healthy (and ethnically interesting) lunch that met very strict federal guidelines — except it didn’t have enough calories. Federal rules assume the average school luncher isn’t eating enough at home. That’s sometimes true, but usually not.

Fighting obesity — or picking on fat kids?

Ads attacking childhood obesity look a lot like ads attacking obese children. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is running TV commercials and billboards with overweight children to make Georgians worry more about the problem, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The state ranks second in the nation for childhood obesity: Forty percent of children are overweight or obese. But half of adults don’t see it as a major health issue and 75 percent of parents with overweight or obese children don’t think their kids need to slim down.

Some public health experts, however, say the approach could be counterproductive when it comes to childhood obesity. The commercials and billboards do not give families the tools they need to attack the problem, some critics say. Others say the images will simply further stigmatize obesity and make it even less likely for parents and children to acknowledge that their weight is unhealthy and should be addressed.

“We know from communication research that when we highlight a health risk but fail to provide actionable steps people can take to prevent it, the response is often either denial or some other dysfunctional behavior,” said Karen Hilyard, a University of Georgia health communication researcher.

The President’s Fitness Award will be given to any child who can eat without sweating, reports The Onion.

Finally conceding it is unrealistic to expect today’s children to complete a pull-up, run a mile, or touch their toes, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition announced the new standard.  “We want our kids to set more pragmatic, real-world goals for themselves, and being able to run back and forth across a basketball court one time is no longer realistic,”  said Shellie Pfohl, executive director of the council.

It’s satire, but uncomfortably close to reality.

Nacho report

Alexander Russo’s new photo/ed blog, Hot For Education, features this School Lunch Update from the Chicago Tribune, which reports that nacho service in Chicago high schools will be cut from every day to once a week and in elementary schools to once a month.

School Lunch Update:  Once offered daily at Chicago schools, “nacho  service” will be reduced in high schools to once a week  and in elementary schools to once a month, according to this update from the Chicago Tribune (What’s happened since school lunch investigation?)