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'We are hungry': Kids lament new lunch guidelines in video

School lunches in Sharon Springs, Kansas have left the students so hungry they created a video parody of the hit song, "We Are Young." In the clip, called "We Are Hungry," the kids say they don't have enough energy for after-school sports. NBC's Mara Schiavocampo reports.

Not even a month has passed since new federal guidelines mandating healthy school lunches went into effect, and already there’s been pushback from students who insist that the healthier, scaled-down meals don’t provide enough calories to power them through the afternoon.

Student athletes, in particular, say that the new 850-calorie limit leaves them famished and too tired to make it through sports team practices.   

“We would notice a drop in energy around 1 to 2, so we would get hungry right again,” Callahan Grund, a junior at Wallace County High School in Sharon Springs, Kansas, told TODAY. “In the past that hasn’t happened as much.”

To make their point, students at Wallace County High, along with their English teacher, crafted a music video parody dubbed “We are Hungry” that laments the lower-calorie lunches to the tune of “We Are Young.” That video has gone viral, with more than 250,000 views since it was posted on Sept. 17.

The spoof video shows a volleyball player collapsing to the gym floor to the words “You go to practice and you feel like falling down.” Another scene shows kids crowding around the snack counter at a grocery store while the singer mourns, “My friends are at the corner store getting junk so they don’t waste away.”

Linda O’Connor, the teacher who put new words to the old tune, explained her motivation. “From day one when the students went through the line, they literally looked at their plates incredulously,” O’Connor told TODAY. “Like, ‘Is this really what we’re being served?’ It was the lack of protein and the entrée that really hit hard for them.”

The new guidelines were put in place to help combat the nation’s growing obesity epidemic: Currently nearly one in three teens qualifies as obese. The guidelines are supported by first lady Michelle Obama.

“We’re talking about getting kids running around and playing again,” the first lady said. “It is important to understand that this isn’t just about fun and games. This isn’t a joke. It’s about their health.”

Along with a minimum/maximum number of calories that is tied to the age of the students, the guidelines also mandate that milk must be nonfat or low-fat; that there should one cup each of fruit and vegetables each day; and that there must be 2 oz. of protein and 2 oz. of grains per day.

This is the first major overhaul by the government in school lunch guidelines in 15 years. In a statement, Kevin Concannon, Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, said: “The amount of food on a kid’s plate is not much different than in years past – it is simply healthier. The new standards were developed using the latest science at the Institute of Medicine, which determined the appropriate amount of calories. Under these new standards, schools have the option to give students who need additional calories more servings of fruit and vegetables and low-fat milk.”

The biggest change in the school lunch guidelines isn’t the number of calories but rather the foods that go into those calories, said Anne Condon-Meyers, a pediatric dietitian at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

The size of the protein portion has gone down, while the amount of fruits and vegetables has been boosted, Condon-Meyers said. And while kids may be used to a bigger serving of protein, they don’t really need it.

As for the maximum number of calories, “Eight hundred and fifty calories, if you are assuming that is one third of total daily calories, would cover most boys and all the girls,” Condon-Meyers said, adding that very active boys could get plenty of calories if they supplemented the 850-calorie lunch with extra servings of fruit, vegetables and milk.

Beyond this, teenage athletes rarely depend solely on three meals a day. Most will have a snack to tide them through the afternoon, Condon-Meyers said. As a rule, the average active teenage boy needs to consume between 2,800 and 3,200 calories for the entire day, while girls need 2,000 to 2,300 calories.

Kids shouldn’t be surprised to find themselves hungry in the afternoon – that’s natural, Condon-Meyers said.  That’s where a healthy snack comes in.

Ultimately, the big problem is obesity, Condon-Meyers said.

“It doesn’t take a lot of extra calories per day to gain weight at a fast rate,” she added.

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