EDUCATION
12/06/2012 05:05 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2013

Fattest Country In The World: Are Schools To Blame For America's Obesity Epidemic?

To borrow a line from Kermit the frog, it's not easy being green -- or, eating green.

America is the fattest country in the world, and only ranks second to Greece in the proportion of children who are overweight, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. While obesity rates have slowed or stabled in other countries, larger increases were recorded in the United States, alongside Canada and Ireland.

In America, 17 percent -- or 12.5 million -- of children aged 2-19 are obese, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 16 percent or so are overweight and at risk of becoming obese.

Experts point to a culture of high fat and low quality, low nutrition eating -- combined with minimal physical activity -- as the main culprit. The OECD has called for a shift in habits and increased education in health and nutrition.

But is it where that education is supposed to be occurring -- in schools -- in part to blame? While schools can't control what students eat off campus, they can affect what's being served to children on school grounds, and educate students to prepare them for a lifetime of healthy habits, advocates have said.

And that very effort is the goal of First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's new school lunch initiative for this school year.

The new federal requirements, the first major nutritional school meal overhaul in over 15 years, offer less sodium and trans fats, more whole grains and a broader selection of fruits and vegetables to the 32 million students who take part in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs. The rules also place a calorie cap on lunches: 650 calories for elementary school lunches, 700 for middle schools and 850 for high schools.

But Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, tells HuffPost Live that those rules don't solve the problem, as students often opt for vending machine snacks or a la carte items full of fat and sugar.

It also doesn't help when students across the country are waging war against the first lady. Teens from Kansas to Wisconsin have staged protests against the new school lunches, launching Twitter campaigns, boycotting cafeteria meals and filming videos in hopes of bringing widespread attention to their cause: the new rules are too restrictive, leaving kids hungry. Growing adolescents, teens say, require more calories because they're burning more through sports and other activities.

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that more than a third of high school students were eating vegetables less than once a day -- "considerably below" recommended levels of intake for a healthy lifestyle that supports weight management and could reduce risks for chronic diseases and some cancers.

Students are simultaneously throwing away twice as much food from school meals as they did last year, according to ABC News, and Kristi King, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells the network that the whole grain and fiber-robust new lunches should actually keep students fuller than before, "if they are actually consuming the whole product."

So what's a school to do when even the First Lady is seeing resistance? Check out what experts and guests had to say on HuffPost Live above, and weigh in below.

PHOTO GALLERY
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BEFORE YOU GO
School Lunches Around The World
PHOTO GALLERY
School Lunches Around The World