Archive for February 9th, 2010

Childhood obesity is in the spotlight recently following the announcement of the Let’s Move! initiative headed by first lady Michelle Obama. Missourian education reporters expand on the topic from stories in Columbia and around the country.

When I was in high school, we had plenty of vending machines filled with sugary and fattening fare. I enjoyed a Snickers bar many afternoons when I had to stay late working on my page of the school newspaper. However, during my tenure at Naperville Central, the school began introducing new machines filled with what I’ll call “alternative” snacks: pita chips and vitaminwater, to name a few options. While these machines didn’t replace the classics, I began to suspect that the school administration thought we needed to change our eating habits.

Apparently, so does the president of the United States.

The Obama administration is poised to impose a ban on all junk food in public schools, according to a Sunday New York Times article. Legislation is in the works to oust candy and sodas and replace them with more healthy options in the name of combating childhood obesity. Michelle Obama plans to lead an initiative to that end, according to the article.

The politics of the issue are hazy at this point. Some Republicans will wait to pass judgment on the issue until they see the as-yet-unavailable legislation, slated to appear “within weeks” from Senator Blanche Lincoln, chairwoman of the committee concerned.

The bill is to exempt bake sales and other “unusual” situations, but this raises even more questions as to what constitutes an exemption.

Schools nationwide have recently been serving healthier lunch options independent of any federal mandate, and official school lunch and breakfast programs have long been void of excessively unhealthy offerings, according to the article. The issues the ban would seek to rectify are those caused by unofficial offerings, like vending machine purchases and, at one school, a “candy cart.” Proceeds from these sales are often used to fund extra–curricular activities, a perk schools may have difficulty giving up.

It’s an interesting dilemma. Is childhood obesity so severe that the federal government needs to tell people what to eat? Should students be allowed to have a say in the matter? After all, they’re the focus. Is it encouraging healthy habits or hindering adult decision-making to choose a student’s food for him? I’m not sure. The question begs further consideration. I’m curious to see what this proposed legislation contains in detail.

What about you, Columbia? Tell us what you think. Maybe you have children in Columbia Public Schools. Maybe you’re a student yourself. Maybe you’re just a concerned citizen. I think this affects you, whichever category you fall into. Do you think the government should tell us what to eat if they’re doing it with our best  interests at heart?

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