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Soda for students?

January 8, 2008 - Betsy Bethel
The newsroom was abuzz this morning with talk of the proposed West Virginia ban on soda and sugary snacks in schools.

My gut reaction when I saw the headline was to roll my eyes. It makes me wonder how the government is going to "interfere" next in our lives and the lives of our children. I wonder how far we, the people, will LET them meddle in our private lives in the name of "public good"?

After my eyes settled back in their sockets, I took off my black-and-white glasses and started to look at the various shades of gray in the proposed ban.

A reason cited for the proposal is poor dental health and child obesity in the Mountain State. On Jan. 1, this newspaper reported West Virginia ranks 47th in the United States in the number of people who visited dentists in 2006. In addition, the state ranks last when it comes to number of people over age 65 who have lost all their teeth -- a whopping 43 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2004 figures).

Childhood obesity also is a significant problem in the state. It's tied with Kentucky as having the highest percentage — 21 percent — of overweight children ages 10-17, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's Web site. This compares to 15 percent nationwide, 14 percent in Ohio and 13 percent in Pennsylvania.

The question is whether banning pop and candy bars from being sold on campuses will make a dent in these statistics.

I don't feel it will do much good because a) students can still bring to school whatever they want, and b) pop and sweets consumed at school are not the only contributors to poor oral hygiene and obesity.

On the other hand, if a student who buys school lunch doesn't have the option of pop or cherry pie, then it stands to reason he's not going to consume them. Or maybe, unhappy with the options of bottled water and carrot sticks, he chooses not to eat at all -- another unhealthy decision that could affect his ability to perform up to his potential in class.

I found a column online by a teenager in Marysville, Calif., who weighed in on the debate in her state prior to a pop ban bill that went into effect last year. Sidney Asercion, a then-senior at Marysville High School, makes a wise statement that I'd like to share. After polling a high school civics class about the ban, he or she (don't know if Sidney is male or female) wrote:

"A beneficial idea from the debate was to educate kids more about the importance of nutrition and to ban soda for elementary and middle school students. Many of the students during this age need guidance and to learn the routine of eating healthy, before becoming adults. However, when students enter high school, it's their decision to choose what's best for their own nutrition since they will be at the age of making important decisions."

The ban will not affect Ohio County even if it does get through the Legislature, because the district stopped selling pop ages ago, apparently the first in the state to do so.

Nonetheless, we should be asking ourselves if a statewide ban is something legislators need to be spending their time on, or perhaps the children could be better served by dental hygiene education and more time to run around on the playground.


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