Phyllis Schlafly

Too many of our children are too fat, so there ought to be a law. Turn the trial lawyers loose to blame the restaurants and the fast-food joints and give them the tobacco treatment. Right?

As with many other problems in our society today, the government might not be the solution. But it could be part of the problem.

Recent studies show that 11 percent of U.S. children and adolescents are obese, and one in three is overweight. They face a costly future as obese adults, plagued by heart disease, high cholesterol, several types of cancer and type II diabetes, which has increased 50 percent in the last 10 years.

So why are we allowing public schools to impose an obesity-friendly environment on students, even on those who come from homes where calorie-laden eatables are prohibited? Why do we permit schools to provide easy availability of junk foods, sodas, snacks and sweets from vending machines, and non-nutritious school lunches?

Why? Follow the money.

These foods are big money-makers, and schools get their cut from the profits. Nine out of 10 U.S. schools now run lucrative a la carte programs at lunchtime. A la carte is French for selling sodas and junk food as alternatives to nutritious school lunches.

Sodas from vending machines are sold in at least 60 percent of all middle schools and high schools, and the Texas statistics released by the state's agriculture commissioner are probably typical.

With a majority of school districts responding to the survey, 52 percent had exclusive vending contracts with drink and food companies. Sixty-three percent of those Texas contracts were with Coca-Cola and 15 percent were with Pepsi.

A study of Minneapolis-St.Paul-area schools published in the American Journal of Public Health tactfully described 93 percent of the a la carte foods sold to students as "foods to limit." In the schools where they were sold, students ate fewer fruits and vegetables and consumed more calories from fat and saturated fat than health guidelines encourage.

Public schools must take a big share of responsibility for our epidemic of childhood obesity, not only because of the kinds of foods and drinks they sell or give away, but because of the inducements that flow from easy availability and peer pressure.

Of course, parents cannot be excused from responsibility, but it is unrealistic to say its the parents' job to forbid their children to eat, drink or buy what their schools provide.

Phyllis Schlafly

Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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