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Trading kids' health for school revenue


Brian Steinberg

The Beaufort Gazette
April 10, 2008



 A bill that would have banned fatty foods and drinks from public schools' vending machines died in the state House on Tuesday, mainly because the proposal also required that new nutritional standards apply not only to public schools' vending machines, but to their concession stands during sporting events or other after-school functions.

The bill would have banned all soda from vending machines and allowed only for the sale of granola bars, nuts and other nutritional snacks -- no more Snickers, Cheetos or Ding Dongs. Only snacks under 200 calories would be allowed.

The bill also would have set much-needed higher nutritional standards for cafeteria meals, such as offering foods that derive less than 35 percent of their calories from fat.

It's no secret that vending and concessions equal money for schools. Some schools even allow popular soft drink and other major vendors to sponsor equipment, such as sports score boards or allow for billboard advertising on campus. Rep. Michael Anthony, D-Spartanburg, a retired football coach, told The State newspaper in Columbia that food revenue "is a big financial piece," and that one year, his school earned $13,000 in refreshment sales in just five months.

It's pathetic that athletic programs and school budgets, among other things, must rely on outside revenue to operate, but it's rueful when we're selling out kids' health to do it. The eating habits established early in life have a profound effect through adulthood -- especially when one reaches adulthood only to find out that the pounds stop coming off as easily, if at all. America has an eating disorder, and we all know it. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention data show again and again that obesity is on the rise, with nearly 20 percent of South Carolina's adult population being clinically obese -- that is, having a body mass index greater than 30. BMI is the weight of a person relative to his or her height. While obese is considered 30 or greater, a BMI of 25 is overweight.

Today, about 15 percent of American children and adolescents can be classified as obese, according to the CDC, and those numbers are on the rise. Worse, the numbers will continue to rise until we teach children and lead with a healthy example. As waistlines grow, so do health problems. In the end, decreasing health means increasing medical bills and insurance premiums. Obesity leads to hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypothyroidism, gout, cancer, incontinence, pregnancy and fertility complications -- even death.

Legislators had a chance to help our children, and they blew it. Quentin Cavanaugh, Greenville County Schools' marketing and training specialist, told the House panel that some of the high schools in his district earn as much as $70,000 from vending machine sales each year, according to The State. He added, "None of "the principals' want to sell this stuff. But they need the revenue." Shame on us for making bad decisions about kids' health.

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