An independent study of 57 such programs showed that only four demonstrated any real success in changing the way kids eat or any promise as a weapon against the growing epidemic of childhood obesity.
No difference in the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten by kids participating in the program and those who weren't. Teachers who spent more hours on nutrition education had no greater impact than those who didn't. And parent behavior didn't change either.
Kids don't change because they've been eating it for so long they're just accustomed to eating that way.
The federal pilot program which offered fruits and vegetables to the children in school was unsuccessful because the children refused to eat them. They didn't like its taste. They still went for chips and soda or unhealthy junk food.
One expert acknowledges that the forces that cause obesity are "hard to fight with just a program in school. "Federal nutrition programs aside, experts agree that parents have the greatest influence over what their children will eat.
Doctor Robert Trevino of the Social and Health Research Center in San Antonio says that if parents don't teach their kids' good eating habits before puberty, the challenge to get them to eat healthier as teenagers will be much harder.
Poorer kids are especially at risk, because unhealthy food is cheaper and more easily available than healthy food. Parents are often working, leaving children unsupervised to get their own snacks. Low-income neighborhoods have fewer good supermarkets with fresh produce.
Meanwhile, it's harder for children to exercise on their own. Parks often aren't safe and sports teams cost money.
Children between 8 and 12 see an average of 21 television ads each day for candy, snacks, cereal and fast food — more than 7,600 a year, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study. Not one of the 8,854 ads reviewed promoted fruits or vegetables.
The study results come amid reports that the government will fork out over a billion dollars this year to help insure that Americans eat properly. One would just have to take a look at the figures associated with the American population and associated obesity rates. More than 60% of people in the US are either overweight or obese, which is more like a slap to the face of the government who might as well be throwing doughnuts down the drain instead of tax payer's dollars.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, nationally obesity rates since the 1970s have nearly quintupled among kids ages six to eleven. Among even younger children, ages two to five, the rate has tripled.
However, the review also holds out a promise. It says that there may be a solutions found in limited studies currently being tested around the country. In some situations, obese and overweight children can lose weight and get healthy through rigorous hospital and clinic-based interventions that involve regular check-ins, family involvement, scheduled exercise and nutrition education.
School programs that increase physical activity are also more likely to have an impact than nutrition education.
"It's true, it didn't change what they actually eat. But the program really made a difference in how kids were feeling about fruits and vegetables. They really had a more positive attitude toward fruits and vegetables," said Dr. Mike Prelip, a UCLA researcher who headed the evaluation team.
This spring the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced plans to spend $500 million over the next five years to reverse the trend of childhood obesity. It will fund programs that bring supermarkets into poor neighborhoods, studies that measure the weight of children who exercise more at school and meetings of advocates who seek to restrict junk food ads.