LIFESTYLES by Ronda Gates Weekly Message
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Food Fight

Tonight the NBC Dateline program focused on food safety in school cafeterias. Dateline rarely does a piece that cheers a potentially controversial issue. I also remembered that the subject had been addressed earlier in the year so I was wondering if I would hear anything new.

The story covered everything from dirty dishes to flies in kitchens and on the food itself to uncooked food to uninstalled equipment that would make food safe. Suffice to say that if these food services are representative for much of the nation, it's not much wonder our children get food borne illnesses.

The story was disheartening. But more disheartening to me was the reminder that our kids continue to be offered foods they like but that may not be the healthiest choices for them. Hot wings, burgers and chicken wings continue to be the centerpiece of school food services that pander to the fast food and soda pop corporations that donate exorbitant amounts of money to schools that help them create relationships with children by serving their products in school cafeterias and vending machines. At a time when we have so many overweight children that our nation is facing a diabetes crisis that will render these children blind, with lost limbs and risk of chronic disease in their mid-thirties we need to be thinking about how to set the stage for healthy lifestyle in schools at the same time we are worrying about whether a child or teacher will come down with a food-borne intestinal illness.

The child obesity crisis is fueled by a corporate culture that manipulates children to adapt poor eating practices by in-school promotions. Instead of focusing education on portion size, the benefits (and opportunities) of and for an active lifeestyle and how to make food choices they are in an environment that supports their desire to seek out sugar, fat and calories. Food engineered with additives (including fat and sugar) that exploit our biological preferences are pushed relentlessly by powerful companies (that lobby our government. When these companies have unencumbered access to children in schools the results can be devastating. 120 volunteers from The Center for Science in Public Interest surveyed schools and discovered that in 13, 650 vending machines 42 percent of what was sold was candy, 25 percent chips and 13 percent baked goods. In 9,723 snack slots in all the vending machines surveyed, only 26 slots contained fruits or vegetables.

There are some school districts that are fighting back. Last month I attended a wonderful one day symposium (10 x 10: 100 Ways to Help Our Children) produced by the Aspen Center for Integrative Health and sponsored by Yoga Ed (get this program in your child's school). I learned that thanks to the grass roots leadership of Jacqueline Domac, a dynamic Venice (CA) High School teacher and her students and a brave school board under the leadership of Marlene Canter spearheaded a successful effort to ban soft drinks and junk food in schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Former LA Lakers star Norm Nixon reported on the growth of a business that helps schools find inexpensive vending machines and, via his company, provides healthy snacks to schools willing to invest in them. (That's my kind of sports hero.) A dozen other states are considering legislation to strip school vending machines of sweets or impose taxes on soft drinks to pay for teacher salaries and breakfast programs. In my home state of North Carolina lawmakers are calling for a moratorium on soft-drink contracts that pay schools to put soda machines in school hallways.

Admittedly, the federal school lunch program is designed to provide healthy meals in schools. They bend the rules by calling sugar laden catsup a vegetable and balancing high in fat unhealthy foods that shouldn't be on the menu at all with skim milk products and fruits and vegetables that aren't as appealing to an indiscriminating child's palate. What do I want? I'd like to see the underfunded USDA set standards for all foods sold in schools.

O.K. The soap box is closed for this week. If you're at all interested in this subject, pick up a copy of FOOD FIGHT by Kelly Brownell. Ask your school board if they are willing to risk giving up the fast food and soda pop contracts and replace them with healthy foods that in many school districts reap more income than the contracts ever did. If you don't care about yourself, do it for your kid's sake.

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