Healthier food in school
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URBANA -- In high school
health class, students learn the importance of a healthy diet. In
the hallway outside of the classroom, they can purchase junk food
from a vending machine. Rather than send students this mixed
message, some schools are replacing the junk food in school vending
machines with healthier choices, but not without opposition.
"The reason for removing pop and candy
from the machines and the cafeteria was not to prevent students from
consuming them. That is an individual family and student choice, and
they can still bring it from home. However, as a school, we are
choosing not to contribute to choices that can be harmful to our
students," said Urbana High School principal John Woodward.
Along with freedom-of-choice
accusations, Woodward has had to answer to student groups that have
lost the revenue from vending machine sales and soft drink
endorsements. Woodward's reply is, "Earning money does not justify
selling certain products, especially if they could be harmful to
Still, not all schools are willing to
make the switch. "More than 20 percent of schools serve brand-name
fast foods, often as part of the school lunch program funded by the
USDA," says Rochelle Davis, executive director the Healthy Schools
Campaign. "It's atrocious that we would peddle high-calorie,
low-nutrition foods to our kids while overlooking an array of fresh
produce and products produced right here in Illinois and the Midwest
Davis is working to meet the challenge
of the 2002 Farm Bill, Section 4303, and its statement that
institutions participating in the National School Lunch and
Breakfast Program should purchase local foods where practicable.
Davis admits that right now it isn't practical, but she, along with
other groups, is starting the process of educating and connecting
farmers and small farm co-ops with interested school districts.
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Robin Orr, University of Illinois
Extension specialist, sees this as the first step toward a solution
to the obesity problem that took decades to develop. "In the 1950s
kids rode their bikes or walked to school," says Orr. "Now we have
schools with circle drives for easy drop-off. It took us a
long time to get in this mess, and it's going to take us a long time
to get out of it. We need to look at schools that have made healthy
changes and been successful and model what they did."
Some schools that have already had
success are in regions of the country like southern California with
a climate conducive to providing fresh produce year-round. One
school in Santa Monica has revitalized the school district's
formerly lackluster salad bar system by providing more appealing,
ready-to-eat foods like pre-sliced apples and strawberries.
The pilot program there began in 1997
and was rolled out to all 15 schools in the district in 2000. In the
first year of the districtwide program, sales jumped from 30 to more
than 100 salad bar meals a day.
That's exactly what Davis wants to see
in Illinois. "We hope to get selected school districts to
participate," she says. "It's all about building an infrastructure
for providing healthy food choices to children."
[University of Illinois news release]