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 Sodas win over health in public schools


Mississippi Clarion Ledger, July 25, 2006
 

At the end of the first great soda and snack debate in Mississippi's pubic schools, here's the final score: Beverage companies 1, Our children 0.

For years, the smart business owners of vending machines and soda-distribution companies have sweetened their relationships with school districts across the state by dishing out dollars for extras like scoreboards, sporting equipment and even copiers.

They made themselves nearly indispensable it seems. Kinda like the pretend uncle who pulls quarters out of your ears and plays the harmonica.

State Board of Education member Bill Jones summarized it best after the vote that split 4-3 with one abstention.

"They've (beverage distributors) been good stewards. I've never seen a milk company buy a scoreboard."

Well, you certainly can't blame the beverage distributors for trying to protect their interests. But Mr. Jones, I've never heard of milk being linked to diabetes.

So the glitz and allure of gizmos, copiers and sports trinkets weighed heavier for the board than protecting children's health and quality of life. And oddly enough, it wasn't just some members of the board who seemed mesmerized into delirium by the generosity of the beverage distributors.

Some school superintendents across the state had been as stirred over the proposed ban as, well, dropped sodas.

The impetus for the original proposal was twofold. One: To follow a national policy that bans sugary soft drinks from schools in the 2009-10 academic year. Two: To make a first-round assault at helping our kids battle the epidemic of obesity.

The only difference was some wanted the policy in Mississippi - plagued by obesity issues - to go beyond the national policy. Some are pushing for the removal of all sodas and a strong clampdown on the selling of junk food as snacks to schoolchildren.

SNACK MONEY

It's well known schools have historically relied on vending-machine sales and sales of snacks to children to supplement sometimes thin budgets.

But the blind reliance on such funding that ignores how such food and beverages are hurting our children should stop.

It is, honorable board members and superintendents, woefully time for a change.

Mississippi leads the nation in obesity rates and obesity-related illnesses. An estimated 64.5 percent of the state's adults are overweight or obese. And 24 percent of our schoolchildren in first through eighth grades are overweight.

SPEED BUMPS

Notably, it is ironic and sad to think the proposed removal of sodas and snacks in schools has launched such a debate.

Several weeks ago, when it was announced Mississippi had the worst science scores in the nation on a national test, the silence was deafening. There were no calls for public hearings and no letter-writing campaigns. That was very telling.

It has been argued that a soda and snack ban won't really do much to halt obesity. Well, let's add physical education back in schools and then debate that.

But until we can find better ways to battle obesity, shouldn't we at least be willing to put in speed bumps, if not stop signs, for children headed toward being obese? Our children need us to do the right thing on this issue. The next board meeting is slated for Aug. 17, and the board will get a second bite at the apple, or should I say second gulp of the soda proposal.

Anyone concerned about steering our children from unhealthful lifestyles should make their opinions known. I don't think the board could hear you over the beverage industry during the first round.

Mail comments to Regina Ginn, Office of Healthy Schools, Mississippi Department of Education, Box 771, Jackson MS 39205 or e-mail rginn@mde.k12.ms.us.

So instead of getting stirred up about the removal of sugary sodas and junk food, we can save our energy for more important things - like low science scores.

 

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