OpEd

So school is definitely in full swing. For one class I need to write a Opinion Editorial on a two sided issue presented in a policy analysis we are working on. Good stuff right?

My topic is the CDC’s winnable battle : Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. Since I have already been writing, I figured I would share, and in return can I get your feedback? I am curious to know your thoughts and opinions about the topic mostly. I would like to have more support or opposition to include. I am also ok with writing critique if that’s what you would rather dish out. I can take it, I can welcome it.

The Cost of Vending Machines

It is no surprise that teenagers are quick to adopt the latest trends, and in the case of obesity, they are the ultimate trendsetters. It also should be no bombshell that teens are drinking too many sugary sodas. Perhaps it is time we start connecting the dots, and even better, intervening.

Recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that obesity rates among adolescents have tripled over the past 3 decades. Nearly one out every five teens is packing more body fat than is appropriate for their height.  While the numbers are shocking, the social impact is even more alarming.

Quality of life effects of obesity are similar to those caused by smoking, drinking, and poverty. 365,000 deaths per year are attributed to poor diet and physical activity, second only to tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death. And if that’s not disturbing enough, overweight youth are more likely to experience lower-self esteem, depressed moods, body dissatisfaction, and social marginalization and discrimination.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope. School. 95% of adolescents attend school outside of their own home. Therefore schools have the unique ability and responsibility to create an environment that may encourage healthy behaviors. One way in particular is the regulation or banning of sugary drinks on campus.

The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 requires that all school districts include their own wellness policies for regulating “competitive” foods and beverages, or rather, those sold separately from the commodities provided from the National School Lunch Program. The problem is obvious here. Districts establish their own guidelines.  There is a lack of conclusive evidence as to what policies or best practices contribute to the reduction of student’s over-all weight status. The strongest evidence though, based on available data, suggests that prohibition of sales of sodas in schools have the greatest potential for impacting adolescent obesity.

The most tragic part of this situation is that even after the alarming statistics, supportive evidence, and feasibility of the solution, there is significant opposition from school faculty, parents, and community members when it comes to banning the vending machines.

School administrators argue that if soda is not available in the school, teenagers are likely to leave campus, hit up the local 7-11 for a 32 oz. fountain soda, and money that could have potentially benefitted the school, will be lost.  This also creates a crisis for the custodial team who will probably have more soda spills because cups with lids are not as preventative as capped bottles. The most substantial argument made by faculty is that it is ultimately the parents’ responsibility to exemplify and monitor healthy behaviors for their own child.

It is safe to assume that no parent would ever start the day by scooping 15 teaspoons of table sugar into a Ziploc bag and passing it off to their kid to constitute their lunch. But in reality, parent’s who provide their kid with one dollar to hit up the soda machine for a 20 oz Coke are doing just that.  It could also be assumed that no parent would intentionally inflict harm or risk upon his or her child. Something is clearly afoot in this situation, and the truth might be lack of knowledge or skills from the home front.

The question is not whether or not it should be the school or the parent’s responsibility to imbue health practices, but rather where will have the greatest impact. 5A high schools have over 2,000 students usually from vast racial and socioeconomic backgrounds that are influenced by commodities available or unavailable to them at school. Any educator should know that providing and environment conducive to learning and growth is the only practical solution for impact. It is a paradox that the risks and harms of obesity may be drilled during the health class lecture, but take 10 steps from the classroom and their stands the soda machine shining enticingly before the students. Something doesn’t add up.

One thing does add up well, and that is the annual medical costs associated with obesity each year. An estimated $14 billion dollars each year are attributed to obesity. In 2008 persons who were obese had medical costs that were $1,429 higher than the cost for people with normal body weights. With the fragile economic state our nation is currently facing, can we truly defend vending machines in our schools?

Whether it is changing the status quo, rearranging social norms, or schools taking an incremental financial cut, it is absolutely the first and most feasible step to tackling the obesity epidemic facing adolescents. This is a situation of quality of life and potential death and cannot be passed by.

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5 thoughts on “OpEd

  1. I think this is a hard argument to win because both sides have bald points, which you present beautifully. Personally, I would have hated not having a vending machine in HS. It was a dollar less than school lunches and whatever I got from a vending machine was often more recognizable/edible than the mystery meat available in the lunch room. Maybe making other options rather than just taking them away would be better. Like…schools offering specialty healthy options, like a bagel/muffin stand or fruit smoothies or fresh fruit. But, like they argue, taking away vending machines won’t stop kids from finding crap to eat.

  2. I do not believe that banning soda machines from schools will be one of the most helpful steps towards reversing the cycle of childhood/teenage obesity. Dealing with obesity myself during highschool, I know first hand that it goes so much deeper than that. I agree that kids will get their fix outside of school if they don’t have it available to them in schools. I think the focus should be towards educating students about health and why it is important. So I do believe the reason for banning soda from schools holds no true ground. If this was the only change made, I would be shocked if the obesity statistics changed even a little bit.

    That being said, I also don’t think schools who we trust to educate our children should be teaching the importance of health and then providing an array of unhealthy options on their premises. It sends a mixed message and ultimately says “We teach you about health but we won’t support you in your efforts to find it.”

    If we can help these individual schools or districts see, with the help of parents, that they are not supporting students’ health then we can convince them to willfully give up their unhealthy options.

    To summarize:
    I don’t believe this should be done by law. I don’t believe banning soda, alone, will change obesity statistics. I do think schools should be required to provide more health education, nutritional programs, and emotional help in an effort to increase students’ desire to provide themselves and their families with good health. I also hope schools can be convinced to get rid of unhealthy choices based on supporting their students health and happiness. There has to be something we can do.

    It’s a cool study, Cait! Good luck!

    • Oh yes. So I probably should I have mentioned that this is just a small subset to the large policy analysis I am writing. That is much more comprehensive and covers lots of options including education, adding more fruits and vegetables, etc. But for this short OpEd I just picked one small issue. That being banning soda from vending machines. I probably need to make the point a little bit more obvious. And you are right, just banning soda will not be the quick fix. But limiting soda has so far but the most effective one stop solution. I mean results from doing that compared to any other component of intervention have been the most successful. It’s not the end all though.

      Thank you for your feed back! It’s fabulous and I am going to use it!

  3. Cait,
    I absolutely agree! If students are going to buy their drinks elsewhere, at least they will have to do some extra walking! And one thing I have learned, as a teacher, about teen agers is that they are L.A.Z.Y. Some of them anyway. So I think it would make a difference for many students. And as far as them spilling in class, teachers still have the power to not allow drinks in a cup in their classroom.
    I am wondering, however, what they would replace them with? Sugar free sodas? Or other zero calorie drinks like propel and vitamin water?
    This reminds me of working at RAH, where most of the clients are obese, some morbidly. They have a vending machine and, after much debate, decided to keep sugary sodas, despite their efforts to help people loose weight. But they also offered a weight management class where participant where required to give up sugary sodas and eat a smaller, healthier option for meals. They also learned about healthy eating habits like what a serving size is, appropriate snacks according to calories, and keeping a record of what they eat. Not everyone has been successful but many of them have reached a healthy weight and are now learning to maintain it. So for them they have taken the education approach and allowed them to make th choice and it has made a big difference! Although these are mentally disabled adults, I’m not sure if teenagers would be as receptive to it. But maybe they would, if it was approached correctly!

    I am sorry, i took your request for feedback seriously.

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