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May 3-9, 2006

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News of the Food

Lunch Is Not Enough

By Stett Holbrook

T/b>he Tater Tot may soon be kicked off campus. Since 1980, obesity rates for children have doubled and tripled for teens. In an effort to combat childhood obesity, new legislation introduced in the U.S. House and Senate will ensure that all food sold in schools meets new nutritional standards and will expand the definition of "foods of minimal nutritional value." That means that food served in school cafeteria lunch programs as well as vending machines and snack bars would have to include ingredients other than sugar, fat and salt. Goodbye Ho Hos. Goodbye Funyuns. Hello salad bar.

Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Ark., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act last month. If the legislation passes, the federal government would stop subsidizing the sale of high fat and sugary foods and overhaul school breakfasts and lunches, including free and low-priced meals, a staple for many low-income students who are already at risk for obesity and obesity-related illnesses like childhood diabetes.

The bill has the support of the California Parent Teacher Association, the American Dietetic Association and other health and children's advocacy groups, but expect soft-drink and junk-food purveyors to raise a stink about the legislation and cite concerns about loss of choice, the overzealous "food police" and other time-honored defense tactics used by junk-food peddlers.

I welcome the removal of Coke machines and corn dogs from school campuses. The crap-food industry has been cashing in on children long enough. But as well-intentioned as the bill appears to be, it can't legislate good parenting or stop unhealthy eating among children.

Just as kids are going to sneak into R-rated movies, they're going to eat candy and junk food in spite of parents' best efforts to serve nutritious food. But if parents cook good food at home (microwaving dinner doesn't count) and impart the fundamentals of proper nutrition, that's going to go a long way toward shaping how children eat and will make it clear that Coke and Skittles are not part of a healthy breakfast.

School junk food shouldn't bear all the blame for our fat-kid epidemic. The nutrition legislation will have limited effect if kids can eat the banned foods at home. Just as reading to children at an early age gives them a jump on their education, feeding them healthy, fresh-cooked meals will help impart a lifetime of proper eating habits and encourage them to just say no to Tater Tots and other nutritionally inferior foods.

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