Two sixth-graders at a Minneapolis public school say kids in the district are being forced to gobble down food at lunch because they have only 15 minutes to eat — which in reality is more like 10 — and that schedules like this are making kids feel sick and contributing to the country’s obesity epidemic.

First lady Michelle Obama gets lunch at Parklawn Elementary School in Fairfax County earlier this year. (KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

Talia Bradley and Antonia Ritter, students at Seward Montessori School, wrote about the problem in the Star Tribune, saying:

Having to rush to eat is part of the reason for the obesity epidemic, eating disorders, indigestion and kids not doing well in school. There is research that proves all of these points. Kids just need more time to eat at school.

Rushing to eat high-calorie meals at school, or at home, is the cause for the gastroesophageal reflux. This is often called heartburn. Heartburn feels bad — the symptoms are burning in the chest, overall chest pain, burning in the throat, difficulty swallowing, food sticking in middle of the chest or throat, sore throat and cough.

The girls, who said they’ve been clocking it and their actual eating time is 10 or 11 minutes, make a point that goes beyond Minneapolis. Many school districts are squeezing so much into the school day — often to pack in as much instructional time and test prep as possible — that kids don’t get enough time to each lunch.

Even as many districts are moving to bring healthier foods to their students as a way to address the obesity epidemic, they still haven’t done anything to give kids a chance to eat slowly and actually enjoy what they are consuming.
What’s more, some kids eat lunch before 10:30 a.m. because that’s what the schedule says.

All of this means that kids not only have to rush to eat, they miss out on what members of the Partnership to Promote Healthy Eating in Schools identified as an important aspect of healthy eating at school: socializing with friends and time to get a refreshing break from the academic routine.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that students have at least 20 minutes to eat lunch — starting from when they actually sit down to eat and not from when they enter the cafeteria to get their food.

Here’s what it says:

Students need time to eat adequate amounts of food to meet their nutritional needs, which is essential for optimal student health and academic performance. Children will enjoy their food more and may try more healthy options if they can relax, eat, and socialize without feeling rushed. Scheduling lunch at mid-day, instead of morning hours, reduces waste because students are most likely to be hungry. This also prevents transient hunger at other times of the day that can hinder attention and learning.

The girls addressed this in their opinion piece:

Lunch is an important social time. Teachers always tell us to socialize at lunch and recess, not in the classroom. But we cannot do that if we are scarfing down our lunches in 11 minutes.

And at recess nobody can socialize or run around if they are hungry or we feel sick.

First lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” is all about healthy eating in and out of school and exercise.

If school is really “all about the kids,” as school reformers love to say, then how about reforming this lunch time problem?

How much time do your kids’ schools allot for lunch. And at what time?

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