MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years, and Alabama has the highest rate of overweight and obese children in the country.
The federal government's attempt to rectify the issue has taken mystery meat off the menu and replaced it with healthier alternatives. Now we're seeing higher lunch prices to foot the bill for the fresh produce and reduced fat fare.
In Mobile County, more than 70 percent of students are on free or reduced lunches. So it's an important meal - but is the new menu serving its purpose?
Some students are finding new federal regulations hard to swallow.
"Some days it's good, some days it's not. It's school lunch, you got to get used to it," said a Vigor High School senior.
Ronald Green said most days he would rather go hungry than eat at School.
"School lunches? They jail lunches," said Green.
Suzanne Yates with the Mobile County Public School System said the fruits and veggies are coming at a big expense.
"Just in the first two weeks of school in August, our produce bill for all our schools was over $75,000 and that was almost double or triple from the year before," said Yates.
Parents are now paying a quarter more a meal. Parents like Malessa Alvidrez said her son comes home hungry every day. The feeling is mutual for students across the country.
Students in Kansas took their voices to the internet. Their video "We are hungry" shows students passing out in sports practice and dreaming about junk food in school.
In Mobile County, some students are taking a brown bag instead of getting in the lunch line.
"I don't eat them because they are kind of nasty looking, so I just don't even try them," said Baker High School student Lindsey Claude.
New regulations limit ingredients like salt and ketchup. White bread has been replaced by whole grains.
Kim Griffin serves the children at Vigor High School. She said the menu change isn't a huge hit.
"They don't like it. They're not that fond of wheat, you know, wheat bread, wheat gram crackers, wheat this, wheat that. They say were going to wheat them to death. I tell them, 'We got to do it. It's healthier," said Griffin.
Each meal can't have more than 740 milligrams of sodium and 10 percent saturated fat.
For elementary and middle school students, its 3 3/4 cups of fruit or veggies a week and 8-9 ounces of grain and 9-10 ounces of meat.
For high school students, they must have 5 cups of fruit or vegetables a week and 10-12 ounces of grain and 10-12 ounces of protein.
"We got to do our part on this end and I think the food we're serving, we're trying to make it as nutritious as possible, and things they would want to eat," Yates said.
It's a push to end childhood obesity. Dr. Daniel Preud'homme at the Healthy Life Center in Mobile said it's a huge problem.
"It just really worries me. It worries me because after 25 years of doing this, I don't see less of them. I see more of them," said Preud'homme.
Preud'homme said every day he sees more and more cases of type 2 diabetes, liver disease and other serious illnesses.
"We're talking about children as young as 8, 9, and 10 years old," said Preud'homme.
The new menu is designed to introduce kids to more nutritious foods, but it only works if they eat it. Many students told FOX10 News they throw away some of the meals.
"I just seen it a couple minutes ago," said one student.
Many students aren't throwing away fruits and vegetables - it's the main courses that are going in the trash.
"Sometimes I eat everything but what they are actually serving," said one student.
Like pizza with whole grain crusts, and low fat cheese.
"They'd rather eat all the fruit than the pizza," said Griffin.
Pre-packaged salads and salad bars have been a big hit in many schools, but the main courses are a tough sell.
"The point is that we changed the quality of the food for how we, as doctors, see is better. Meaning white bread is not as good as whole grain bread, but children are not [thinking] like this. That's not something that's very appetizing to them because they really have not grown and developed into that lifestyle," said Preud'homme.
Preud'homme said Mobile County has been very progressive with the program. The school system allows Preud'homme to write "prescription meals" to modify meals for students with specific needs. But in order to reduce the problem, it needs to be a community effort.
"I don't think it's [childhood obesity] a matter of the federal government or any government. I think it resides in the family, and the family center, and eventually in the community where the child is to make a choice to take an approach toward more wholesome foods to modify behavior as early as possible," said Preud'homme.
This is the first time the government has adjusted school lunch regulations in six years. The Mobile County Public School System said it's going to take time for the students to get used to the healthy choices and said it want to hear from the students on how they can improve.
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