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Schools should voluntarily do right with vending machines
by Bryan Gray
May 30, 2012 | 173 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Boarding a shuttle bus to participate in one of last week’s races at the Ogden Marathon, I spoke with a 57-year old man preparing for his first 5k (3.1 mile) race.

“My wife and I watched my younger brother die due to obesity-related heart problems,” he said, “and we pledged then and there to change our lifestyle. We both dropped 50 pounds by exercising and watching our diet. But the problem is that our three sons aren’t following our example. If they keep that up, my wife and I will probably end up burying them.”

As I listened to him, I thought of the controversy in Box Elder and Davis counties regarding two high schools being fined for not turning off soft drink and candy machines during school lunch hours. Rep. Rob Bishop claims that the federal government should keep its nose out of what students purchase.

Rep. Bishop has a point, but schools have a duty to create a healthy environment. Adult smoking has long been banned from school campuses, and while a can of Pepsi cannot be compared to a pack of Marlboros, health experts say sugary soft drinks are the single biggest culprit behind the obesity epidemic threatening to drive our healthcare costs even higher.

The comments about the first-time racer’s sons are interesting. Visit any marathon or 5k run, and you’ll see young people comprising a majority of the participants. The same goes for gym memberships (In the 60 - 69 age category for my Ogden race, I was one of only 14 registrants compared to 162 between ages 19-29).

Yet nutritionists claim that youth care little for fitness: One in five children are clinically obese, teenagers raised on fast-food meals are more concerned with video games and cell phone reception than exercising.

And soft drinks take center stage for poor nutrition. A health advocate quoted in the New York Times said that sugar-laden soft drinks are the number one source of calories in American diets, accounting for more than any other single food or dessert. Another public health expert carries around a jar filled with nearly 3 cups of sugar, the amount consumed by drinking just one soft drink every day for one week.

Nationally, soft drink sales are flat. Last year the average American drank slightly under two sodas a day, a 16 percent decrease since the late 1990’s, and Utah restauranteurs will tell you that customers are increasingly ordering water when asked about a beverage. Yet, from my standpoint, two sodas a day is not a framework for health.

Schools are not to blame (although I cringe when I hear school principals bawl about losing money from being “forced” to turn off vending machines). Maybe Rep. Bishop is correct when he thinks the federal government should butt out.

But if obesity is a looming crisis impacting all our paychecks through skyrocketing medical costs, we can’t ignore the challenge. Parents should be the ones setting the example; when children are young, parents can limit the Maverick Mugs and the Mountain Dews and the Twizzlers the kids consume.

And schools should do a bit more than asking students to read a nutrition chapter in a health class. You cannot force a person to get healthy by offering broccoli in a school vending machine, but turning off the soda and candy machines during lunch hour doesn’t pose a threat to public education.

Schools should do it voluntarily without a threat from Washington, D.C.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily the ownership or management of this newspaper.

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