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Study: Abstinence-Only Lunch Programs Ineffective At Combating Teen Obesity

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Study: Abstinence-Only Lunch Programs Ineffective At Combating Teen Obesity

WASHINGTON—According to the findings of a recent Department of Health and Human Services study, school lunch programs that teach children to avoid all contact with food may not be an effective method of reducing teen obesity rates.

Students at Culver Junior High are taught the dangers of eating even one tater tot.

Despite the popularity of abstinence-only meal programs in schools across the country, the study found that children who were provided with no food at lunch and cautioned against eating at an early age were no less likely to become overweight than those who were provided with a well-rounded nutritional education.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the findings could adversely affect federal funding for all programs that tell kids "lunch is worth waiting for."

"There's no evidence to suggest that instructing teens not to chew, swallow, or even think about food is actually going to stop them from eating," Sebelius told reporters. "Let's face it: Kids are already eating. And not only during lunchtime. They're eating after school, at the mall, in their parents' basements. Pretending like it's not happening isn't going to make it go away."

"After all, they're teenagers," Sebelius continued. "Eating is practically the only thing on their minds."

Researchers tracked a random sampling of students who received an abstinence-only education, like those in the popular "None for Me!" lunch program at Woodbridge High School in Chicago, which encourages children to abstain from eating until after graduation.

A pledge to sustenance abstinence.

"Although these students were repeatedly warned about the evils of eating and made to take fasting pledges, the abstinence-only program did little to curb their overall appetite for food," the report read in part. "In fact, students at Woodbridge were nearly three times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than children who were given a portion of meat, whole grains, and green vegetables, and then encouraged to skip dessert."

Perhaps more troubling, students who completed the abstinence-only program were reportedly unable to answer the simplest questions about their own digestive systems, and some as old as 17 still believed they could catch high blood pressure from their very first Snickers bar.

"Kids need to know the truth about food," said Sue Weber, a nutritionist. "It's irresponsible for these schools to fill their students with misinformation about the devil working through trans fats, instead of just saying to them, 'Look, I know eating that entire box of Cheez-Its might feel good now, but when you're older, you're going to wish you had gone for the salad.'"

Others argue that complete food abstinence sets an unrealistic standard for the nation's hungry teenagers.

"You can't just tell kids not to eat," said child psychologist Dr. Beth Garcia. "As children grow and their bodies begin to develop, they're going to have certain metabolic urges that are impossible to suppress. We should be giving our kids the tools they need to engage in safe, responsible eating. I'd hate for someone's first time to be with some greasy cheeseburger in the backseat of a car."

Garcia also urged parents to talk to their young children about food before it's too late.

Despite the study's findings, many parents continue to support abstinence-only lunch programs, claiming that it's their right to protect their children from knowing anything about calories for as long as possible.

"It's not the government's place to step in and tell my kids about food and how it's okay in moderation or whatever," said Woodbridge PTA member Steven Bray, a father of two students. "My son's going to learn how to eat the same way I did—by watching monkeys do it at the zoo."

Yesterday, President Obama called on the nation's public school system to work together with his administration to develop a more progressive lunch program that emphasizes healthy eating and discourages late-night snacking. But it remains unclear how students will adjust to the new, more honest nutritional approach.

"I'm never ever going to eat, because eating is wrong, and I'm worth more than a chicken sandwich with asparagus and rice pilaf," Woodbridge seventh-grader Tracey Holmes said. "I heard Jennifer Hines eats all the time, like 50 times a day. I heard she eats all her ice cream upside-down, though, so she doesn't get fat. That's how it works."

"It's really hard, though," Holmes added. "I get so hungry sometimes. Especially after hours and hours of unprotected sex."

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