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Article of Interest - Nutrition

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Bridges4Kids LogoAldermen Call For Less Junk Food, More Healthy Breakfasts in Schools
by Fran Spielman, Chicago Sun-Times, December 4, 2003
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The Chicago Board of Education should provide a healthy breakfast for all students to discourage binge eating throughout the day, and ban or severely limit pop and junk food in school vending machines to curb an epidemic of childhood obesity, aldermen suggested Wednesday.

One day after an alarming new study about overweight Chicago kids, aldermen and school officials also proposed eliminating deep-fat fryers from school cafeterias, creating greater competition among food vendors and relocating vending machines to force sedentary kids to get at least some exercise.

"Thirty years ago, 66 percent of children walked to school. Today, only 3 percent do,'' said Dr. Rebecca Unger, a pediatrician on the executive committee of the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago's Children.

"Banning vending machines is not the only answer. . . . Maybe putting them on the top floor of the school so that the children have to increase their physical activity to get up there."

Education Committee Chairman Patrick O'Connor (40th) is the prime mover behind the push for "universal breakfast."

If a bowl of cereal, a carton of milk and a piece of fruit were served to every student to eat at their desk each morning, kids would not only be more attentive in class and perform better on tests. They'd be less inclined to down a pack of cupcakes or a bag of chips after school, O'Connor said.

"If you haven't eaten all day, you're starving and you're going to eat twice as much as you really should. If they've had a [school] breakfast and a lunch, when they go home, it's not likely that they're going to sit around and binge," O'Connor said.

The Chicago Public Schools serve 85 million meals each year at a cost of $180 million. The school breakfast program is open to 374,116 students, or 85.3 percent of all kids, but only 93,000 or 21 percent take advantage of the offer.

"A lot of children don't participate because . . . there's a stigma attached or they're not there in time," O'Connor said, arguing that much of the tab for an expanded breakfast program would be picked up by the federal government.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that young children in Chicago are more than twice as likely to be fat as their counterparts nationwide. Among kids ages 3 to 7 in Chicago Public Schools, 23 percent are overweight and 15 percent are at risk of becoming fat. That's compared to only 10.4 percent of overweight young children nationwide.

On Wednesday, the City Council's Education Committee held a hearing on the childhood obesity epidemic that has prompted public schools in New York and suburban Mundelein to ban vending machines full of pop and sugary snacks.

In Chicago, a five-year vending machine contract with Coca-Cola -- described as the most lucrative in the nation -- is due to expire next fall.

Board of Education staffers have recommended that 30 percent of all vending machine offerings in the new contract be healthy choices. School Board President Michael Scott said he "may go higher." A junk food ban is even a possibility.

"There's about $20 million tied up in [school] revenue from those vending machines. The question is how we can, in some kind of organized, intelligent way, get the crap out of the vending machines," Scott said.

Schools CEO Arne Duncan added, "While the money is very important, what's more important to me is making sure our children are healthy."


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