New York Times Profiles Nationwide Efforts to Improve Student Diets
The New York Times today reports on efforts nationwide to improve the diets of teenagers. According to nutritionists, "junk food" in schools has contributed to a national obesity "epidemic," a trend that has led to increased cases of heart disease, sleep apnea and Type II diabetes in teenagers. To address the issue, Congress this week plans to discuss the Obesity Prevention and Treatment Act, legislation that would establish a campaign to "improve eating habits in the nation." Many states also have considered legislation to eliminate the sale of junk food in schools. In California, for example, Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) has proposed a bill (SB 1520) that would ban soda sales at schools in the state within five years. In addition, the 52,000-student Oakland school district in February banned the sale of soda, candy and other products and has begun to offer students soy-based burgers, salads and fruit juices, according to Amy Lins, the school district's food service manager. In Texas, which has about 800,000 overweight students, schools next year will impose a ban on the sale of soft drinks, candy and other products. Lawyers also have filed class-action lawsuits in Florida and New York "contending that processed foods with little nutritional value have misled consumers" and that "food companies are liable for some health risks because of mislabeling." John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University, said, "You may not be able to prove that somebody got fat because of a particular product, but you can prove that the companies may have misrepresented, by omission, what is in their foods." The food industry has "started fighting back" against the lawsuits and school bans on junk food with radio advertisements that criticize the efforts as "trying to take away food choice." John Doyle, a spokesperson for the Center for Consumer Freedom, said, "I love cheeseburgers. I feed them to my kids three times a week, and everybody is perfectly healthy. This is food we're talking about. Used in moderation, it can help you stay alive" (Egan, New York Times, 5/20).
In related news, the Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine yesterday examined the city's campaign "revolutionizing the way kids, parents, teachers, administrators and support staff in every Philadelphia school think about food." Members of the city's new Comprehensive School Nutrition Policy Task Force hope to "upgrade" vending machines and cafeterias to include more "healthy foods," and school district officials have proposed reforms to their curricula to have "nutrition injected into every subject." Howell Wechsler, a nutrition and physical activity specialist in the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the CDC, said, "Philadelphia is among the innovators. People are coming together with a systematic, long-term approach, not just being negative and trying to stop something from happening" (Uhlman, Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, 5/19). The full article is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.