image by: The California Endowment
Some might say it's government intrusion, but we're talking about children, and we're only saying that public schools ought to be providing them with more than just proper mental nourishment.
I like Gatorade. I don't drink it a lot, but it's my go-to when I've got the flu, needing electrolytes on a stomach that can't handle much. It's also good stuff when I'm tired and sweaty from an afternoon of outdoor exercise.
But I'm a "fully-grown adult" with a habit of drinking water. A lot of it. For me Gatorade isn't a substitute for water: it's an occasional supplement. As such, its empty calories and sugars aren't going to do me any harm.
But the situation is potentially quite different for kids. When I was their age, like a lot of them, my nutritional habits were terrible. Aside from a sip at the drinking fountain now and again, soda was my poison. I imbibed God knows how many gallons of nasty chemicals I still can't properly pronounce, taking in hundreds of calories per day that my body could put to no good use.
There is no doubt my body would have been better served had my schools provided only healthy beverage options. Left to their own devices, a small percentage of children will make good nutritional choices. I was in the majority. Give me money and let me do as I please, and I would go for the sugary whatever every time.
Things have changed somewhat since I was a kid. In 2005 my home state of California banned the sale of soda at public schools. But this remains an exception. So, in a country where childhood obesity is on the rise despite ever-better education about nutrition, recent maneuvers by the government have attempted to fight the battle of the bulge on the school front. In California, for example, there is AB 1746. Introduced in February 2012, the bill aimed to "restrict the sale of electrolyte replacement beverages in middle schools and high schools to specified times before and after school."
Two years later, consumption of such drinks is on the rise, and AB 1746 still is not law. But First Lady Michelle Obama and the USDA are looking to take the lead by phasing out on-campus sale—and even marketing—of sports drinks and all foodstuffs that fail to meet USDA's "Smart Snacks in School" nutritional standards.
It's the kind of government intervention that gets conservative pundits yapping about our "nanny state." And to be fair to them, the idea of government telling us what we can and cannot ingest isn't an easy fit with freedom.
But that's not what the government is doing. The USDA is only looking to limit children's exposure to such stuff only at public—in other words, government-funded—schools. That's a far cry from, for example, incarcerating adults for cannabis use (a practice such right-wingers are generally more than happy to do, freedom be damned). Moreover, there is no medical debate about whether it is better for children's health if they avoid consuming non-nutritious foodstuffs in lieu of nutritious food.
In 2010, an American Dietetic Association study found that sugar-sweetened beverages provided more calories for children 2 to 18 years of age than any other single source, and that almost 40% of their total energy intake came in the form of empty calories.
"The landscape of choices available to children and adolescents must change to provide fewer unhealthy foods and more healthy foods with less energy," the study's authors wrote. "Identifying top sources of energy and empty calories can provide targets for changes in the marketplace and food environment. However, product reformulation alone is not sufficient—the flow of empty calories into the food supply must be reduced."
The editorial board of the New York Times is just one of the many voices nationwide beyond the medical community supporting government intervention when it comes to children's health. "A hint of what strong public policies can achieve came from a program to prevent youth obesity in King County, Wash.," they write in a recent editorial. "Low-income school districts that improved nutrition in school meals and the quality of physical education programs had much bigger declines in obesity rates in 2012 in grades 8, 10 and 12 compared with schools that did not. […] There may be no single approach to reducing obesity, but every little bit can help against such a widespread, multifaceted public health problem."
That's exactly right: this is a public health problem, and every little bit helps.
About the Author:
Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California. Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing.
His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly, GreaterLongBeach.com, and a variety of academic and literary journals. HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up. For more information: greggorymoore.com
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