The Garden City Telegram
10/19/2013
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Snack pack

Unhealthy toll of extra pounds warrants government attention.

A push toward healthier fare in schools has been driven by health-related issues.

On Tuesday, the Kansas State Board of Education discussed new federal rules aimed at ensuring public schools offer healthy snacks to students.

Starting in July 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will require that all food sold in schools participating in the National School Lunch Program meet healthy snack requirements. The mandate mostly focuses on school vending machine sales.

State school board members acknowledged the change would require amending existing wellness and nutrition policies as part of an effort to curb youngsters' consumption of high-calorie, high-fat snacks at a time too many students are overweight.

A recent report from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment showed 28.7 percent of Kansas middle school students in grades 6 to 8 were overweight or obese during the 2011-12 school year. And, 24.1 percent of Kansas high school students were overweight or obese during the 2010-11 school year.

Blame higher fat intake and a more sedentary lifestyle. Children today have more access to high-calorie, high-fat snacks and sugary soda pop, and often spend hours in front of a television or computer.

Meanwhile, health care costs for diabetes, heart disease and other ailments ballooned in the state as obesity among Kansas adults more than doubled from 1995 to 2010. Today, about two-thirds of Kansans are considered overweight or obese.

An estimated $1.3 billion is spent annually in Kansas on obesity-related medical expenditures, according to the state, with $385 million paid by Medicaid and Medicare. One study saw obese individuals paying on average 42 percent more in health care costs than normal-weight people.

Those who would question attempts to control what youngsters eat at school at least should acknowledge the long-term cost of high-fat diets. Plus, overall school performance is better for youngsters who exercise and stick to healthy nutrition.

Knowing childhood obesity is a multifaceted problem to be attacked from many angles, it's always good when lifelong habits of proper diet begin at home.

But health also is the government's business — to include the responsibility to promote better nutrition in public schools.