Schools have part in youth's health, but parents are key - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Schools have part in youth's health, but parents are key

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Posted: Tuesday, August 16, 2005 7:14 pm | Updated: 9:17 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

For public-school kids, soda pop, Ritz Bits, Ding Dongs and even Nature Valley Granola Bars are on the way out — along with dozens of other snacks ruled “unallowable” this week by the Arizona Department of Education. On the way in are 100 percent fruit juices, low-fat yogurt and baked — not fried — chips.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne released the long lists of acceptable and unacceptable snack foods as part of his campaign to rid public schools of junk foods and hopefully encourage kids to eat a more nutritious diet — at least during the school day. Horne says the schools must do their part to combat a rising tide of childhood obesity.

It's a noble effort, and the problem is real. As Horne points out, the rate of overweight children ages 6 to 17 has doubled in the past 30 years, and more than 25 percent of children ages 6 to 11 are obese. As a result, juvenile diabetes is fast becoming an epidemic in this country.

We all should be concerned — particularly parents. A recent Arizona State University study shows parents are the dominant influence on their children's diet — and whether they develop weight and related health problems. Schools can help steer children toward a more nutritious diet, but their efforts can quickly be undone by parents who stock the fridge and pantry with sugary, fatty foods.

There are other limitations as well. The snack standards, which would go into effect next summer, would only apply through middle school. High schools would be exempt. And the standards only apply during the regular school day — not to after-school activities.

If nothing else, they should stir the pot on nutrition, which has gotten short shrift in recent years as kids naturally go for the tasty goodies offered up by the snack-food industry, and compliant parents oblige.

The standards can and should be used by parents and teachers to revive discussion and instruction of all aspects of good health — including diet and exercise.

But Horne's efforts will be for naught if the standards don't get beyond the schoolhouse walls.

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