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Krupp: Corn Dogs

06/14/10 5:55PM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST) Gardener and commentator Ron Krupp says schools have a long way to go if they want to help tackle the problem of childhood obesity.

(KRUPP) A couple of weeks ago, I attended a South Burlington school board meeting at the Tuttle Middle School. I joined with a group of parents and citizens who had serious concerns about the lack of healthy, nutritious food being served in the cafeterias. As I drove up to the meeting, I noticed the new, highly-equipped high school recreational field. When the meeting began, the parents made it clear that, just as they expected a quality education for their children, they also expected quality, nutritious meals.
My neighbor, Nancy Hellen, brought a show-and-tell plate of school breakfast foods, including sausage dogs, sausage nuggets and hash browns. Hellen wanted to know if the school district plans to drop some of these highly processed foods from the menu, and other items like sugary deserts, corn dogs, and chocolate milk with its high sugar content. By the way, snack foods pay part of the food costs in the school system. Small steps have been taken, but little has been done to change the culture of unhealthy food in the South Burlington schools.  From what I've learned, there is a plan to add bagels, fruit and whole grain cereals to the breakfast program this fall. We'll see.  
Kelly Brownell, a professor of epidemiology and public health at Yale, put the issue of children and nutrition in perspective when he said that this generation of children may be the first to live fewer years than their parents. The reality is that children are developing chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes in record numbers. Two-thirds of our health care dollars go to treat these diseases, which are directly related to unhealthy processed food and over-eating. Here's a figure that will shock you. Twenty-five percent of four year old children are obese - especially children of color.
Here's another problem. Obesity researchers have hard data proving the least healthy cereals are the ones marketed most aggressively to children. Each year, pre-schoolers - ages 2 to 5 - see on average 507 cereal ads each year. The report also shows how cereal makers are interacting with young consumers online through video games with products like Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Crunch Swirl.
When I was growing up we didn't have school vending machines full of soft drinks and snacks. And junk food wasn't served. Our vending machines had apples and milk. Of course, I shudder when I think back to Friday's over-cooked vegetable soup. Many school communities like the Brewster Pierce School in Huntington and the Burlington school system are seen as healthy models in Vermont and the nation. The children do taste-testing and help prepare meals. Local farmers provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the schools. My hometown of South Burlington needs to change with the times.
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