Here's the latest dispatch from the front in the war to end childhood obesity. This time, the theater of operations is located in Florida:
Lee County schools have launched an all-out war on behalf of health and nutrition, stomping out children's bad habits before obesity and diabetes reach epidemic levels.So far, the Associated Forces of Childhood Fitness have been losing to the better organized and well-supplied United Armies of Fat.
Cafeterias sit on the battle's front line: Deep fryers have been torn out of cafeterias in favor of baked dishes, and soda and candy bars stripped from vending machines and replaced with milk and fresh fruit. Even pizza and cheeseburgers have been altered in the push for low-fat, low-calorie ingredients.
"The kids in the millennium generation, those born in the year 2000, will be the first generation with lesser longevity than their parents," said Sharon Warnecke, health services coordinator for Lee public schools. "It's because of diabetes issues and cardiac issues that relate to their sedimentary lifestyle and obesity."
During the 2004-05 school year, 20 percent of Lee third-graders were deemed overweight using body-mass index data. BMI measures weight versus height for different age groups.
The lunchroom of today is a far cry from the cafeteria of yesteryear. Each meal's nutritional information is calculated electronically and must meet guidelines created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to Lee schools dietician Kay Johnson. Reduced-fat meats and cheeses have transformed cafeteria staples such as pizza and burgers into entrees that aren't frowned upon. Corn dogs, for instance, are made of lower-fat poultry and breading.
Two months into the school year, though, Johnson sees a problem with the grilled chicken nuggets and sloppy Joes being offered every other Wednesday — children don't want to buy either item.
"We have to offer them nutritious meals that also taste good," said Wayne Nagy, director of food services, adding that Lee students consumed 10.1 million meals during the 2004-05 school year. "If kids don't like what they're offered, they aren't going to eat it."
If they don't buy a cafeteria lunch, the school doesn't make any money. And the alternative is children stuffing their stomachs with food that is sometimes far from a balanced diet.
"I've seen kids bring lunches of a couple Twinkies and a bag of M&M's," Nagy said.
Final victory in this war over the health of our children remains as elusive as ever as the high command of the United Armies of Fat continue to find new and improved ways of