Get junk food out of schools
SINCE CHIPS and soda from vending machines are hardly staples of a healthy diet, Massachusetts can take a step to improve children’s nutrition by setting health standards for snacks and beverages sold in schools. Heavy in sugar, fat, and salt, these items often compete with cafeteria lunches and set young people on course for a witches’ brew of future illnesses, from diabetes to high blood pressure and heart disease. The state House of Representatives should approve a bill directing the state Department of Public Health to set standards that, in effect, would push schools to sell healthy snacks instead of junk food.
The state standards would follow 2007 guidelines from the Institute of Medicine, a scientific panel that advises the federal government. It called for replacing soda with water, juice, and low-fat or skim milk; offering snacks with lower fat and sugar, and making fresh fruits and vegetables available to students. The House bill would also encourage schools to sell fresh foods from local farmers. It establishes a governor’s commission to develop a coordinated statewide plan to tackle childhood obesity.
The bill has been before the Legislature at least twice in the past. But opposition from the beverage industry has kept it from reaching the House floor until now. House leaders should be commended for withstanding the pressure.
The risk of inaction is made clear in a report this month on high cholesterol in children by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers found that one in five children has dangerously high cholesterol, a risk factor in heart disease. In obese children, 43 percent had high cholesterol. In Massachusetts, 26 percent of high school students are overweight or obese, and the rate of obesity among the state’s children has doubled in the past decade.
Poor nutrition is just one factor in the growing problem of childhood obesity. But cracking down on the junk food children use to supplement or replace their school lunches is a no-brainer step in the right direction.
© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.
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