Junking food: It's not the time for schools to scrap healthy meals

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America's battle against childhood obesity is being fought on many fronts, and the nation is winning on some but surrendering on another.

Good news came in the results of a survey of more than 800 school districts, which showed widespread increases in bans and restrictions on the sale of junk food and soda. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 44 percent of districts banned junk food from vending machines last year, a significant improvement from 2006, when only 30 percent of districts had such bans.

The CDC survey also showed a drop in the influence soda companies have in schools -- in the amount of income they get from the sale of soft drinks, advertising allowed on school grounds and donations of equipment and other products they accept. Those factors mean less exposure of children to the lure of sugary drinks, which contribute to weight gain.

The bad news comes from some of the country's school cafeterias themselves, where administrators are giving up too easily in the effort to alter the eating habits of children to help keep them at a healthy weight.

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture changed guidelines for meals offered under the $11 billion National School Lunch Program last year, more whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables became a regular part of the meals, for which districts receive reimbursements and price breaks. It was no surprise that some students didn't like it.

In response, the School Nutrition Association has found that 1 percent of the 521 district nutrition directors it surveyed said they plan to drop out of the school lunch program and another 3 percent are considering that option. That's the wrong choice.

All the more troubling is the explanation offered by some schools, which said their cafeterias were losing too much money because children didn't like the healthier options. Does that mean the schools would be willing to offer deep-fried Twinkies if they could make a profit with fat-laden lunches?

Earlier this month, the CDC reported the first reversal of a trend that saw obesity rates among children, which had been rising for decades, decline in 19 states and remain steady in 21 others, although Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Colorado recorded increases. Efforts that contribute to that improvement should be nurtured, not abandoned.

It takes a long time to change dietary habits, and schools should be willing to keep at it for the long-term good of their students.



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