Some of my most memorable moments of elementary school are about things that happened at lunchtime. Back in the day, lunchtime lasted just as long as all the other periods. It’s still that way in some places- but in others lunch hasn’t been competing for time as successfully with the other academic priorities. The School Nutrition Association’s recent report, State of School Nutrition 2011, found that short lunch periods continue to be a challenge for school nutrition professionals across the country.
Partly because of the increasing pressure to include more academic work in the classroom, most kids aren’t getting the recommended levels of physical activity at school (including lunch) even though there’s growing evidence that physical activity and academic achievement go hand in hand. The CDC recently published a review of published studies and found that physical activity during the school day improves cognitive skills and attitudes, enhances concentration and attention, and improves classroom behavior. Maybe it’s time to think about Lunch & PE as a subject that’s not just important for physical wellness, but as a tool to improve academic performance!
So, who makes the decisions around the logistics of school lunch time? It’s local school districts- but we can still have an influence by giving the districts and schools the tools they need to set good priorities. We’ve been working with the Arizona Department of Education to help schools by promoting school health advisory councils and assessing school health using the School Health Index from CDC. Parents, health professionals, and concerned community members can be part of a school advisory council to provide assistance and express concerns regarding school health, including school lunch times.