For the first time since it subjected conscientious objectors to severe calorie restrictions during World War II, the federal government is again experimenting with diet restrictions for schoolchildren.
Changes in school lunch programs to get more fruits and vegetables on the menu – and cut the fat and salt – have gained much attention in the last couple of years. But lately, some kids in those lunch lines have been calling attention to another aspect to all the top-down tampering in the school kitchen.
Calorie restrictions that limit high school students to about 850 calories are being blamed for growling stomachs and student athletes without the energy to compete.
There are indeed signs that students are rising up against these dictates from the National School Lunch program. Kansas, especially Wallace County High School in Sharon Springs, has emerged as ground zero for the movement. Students there have produced “We Are Hungry,” a YouTube video that takes on the calorie restrictions head on.
Calorie restrictions never seem to go very well for Uncle Sam. The World War II experiment was bust even through the conscientious objectors were willing subjects in the program.
The plan was to see how the American men would do on a restricted calorie diet of potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, dark bread, macaroni, milk, chicken toast and jam. This was the kind of food available in war-torn Europe.
Psychology Today magazine in a review of the war program last year said that on 1,600 calories a day, men suffered from lethargy, irritability and anxiety. They lost their sex drive and could not concentrate. The magazine said the outcomes were “horrible.”
The unintended consequences experienced by those conscientious objectors during the war sound very similar to those being reported by students today about the school lunch rationing.
“There’s just not enough,” said Callahan Grund, a 16-year-old football player at Wallace County High School. He told the Wichita Eagle that the food restrictions at school have left him without enough energy to do chores in the morning and participate in football practice in the afternoon.
Calorie maximums under the new federal dictates are 650 calories for elementary children, 700 for middle schoolers and 850 for high school students. Many parents are concerned about high school athletes, who can burn 3,000 calories a day.
At least one bill has been introduced in Congress to lift the calorie restrictions, which are imposed under the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.” It was the same law that dictated changes in the menu mix for school lunches.
Until calorie restrictions were written into the school lunch program, American experience with actual caloric reduction regimes has been rare. Food rationing during World War II focused on distribution of scare stocks–like sugar, not calories.
General Eisenhower did impose severe calorie restrictions on occupied Germany during the winter after World War II in favor of feeding France, England, and displaced persons who were victims of the Nazis.
Many Germans viewed calorie restrictions as punishment for the war, but they were lifted with the post war recovery of agriculture around the world.
The new school lunch restrictions are mostly taking the form of portion size. A major purpose of the 2010 act is fighting obesity. Many of the students now objecting to being put on rations say they don’t mind the healthier fare; they just can’t make it on 850 calories.
Reports are also coming in that many students are dropping out of the school lunch program for what ever they can find at the nearest convenience or grocery store. A Wisconsin school district has seen its number of school lunches cut in half by boycotting students.
School dietitians say the idea behind the reductions was to spread out calorie intake throughout the day, meaning several small meals at school and home instead of just one big school lunch.