A recent article from the Washington Post is about Japan’s school lunch program. It sounds like a great program, actually. But because anything about our current moral panic seems to draw eyeballs, of course BMI must be discussed:
Japan’s system has an envious payoff — its kids are relatively healthy. According to government data, Japan’s child obesity rate, always among the world’s lowest, has declined for each of the past six years, a period during which the country has expanded its dietary education program.
Based on the description of the program, it probably is healthier than most school lunch programs in the world. But that may or may not be contributing to the disparity between Japanese and U.S. obesity rates. There are an awful lot of differences between the two countries (both genetic and in the social environment), and lunch is only one meal a day. But it seems that just about any difference between two populations with different BMI distributions is pounced on breathlessly by the media. “Could this explain the difference?” the headlines ask. If the answer is, “Maybe…” it’s fit to print!
At least there’s no reason to think that our new, problematic calorie limits for school lunches are necessary, even for people who think that school lunches are the key to returning our BMIs to those of The Golden Age:
Though Japan’s central government sets basic nutritional guidelines, regulation is surprisingly minimal. Not every meal has to meet precise caloric guidelines. At many schools, a nutritionist draws up the recipes — no bureaucratic interference. Central government officials say they have ultimate authority to step in if schools are serving unhealthy food, but they can’t think of any examples where that actually happened.
It also sounds delicious:
Officials at Adachi Ward, in northern Tokyo, say they run a “fairly standard” school lunch program in the ward’s 71 elementary schools and 37 middle schools. And because this is food-obsessed Japan, those standard meals are restaurant-worthy; in fact, the ward publishes a full-color cookbook based on its best school meals.