Every student can pick out “the fat kid.” Childhood obesity is a problem and a stigma that has risen steadily since 1960.
Inside the lunch room of Paxon Elementary School, a group of about 25—including parents, doctors, a lunch lady and a principal—gathered to discuss children’s nutrition on Tues., Nov. 18.
Matt Maxwell, a cardiovascular surgeon at St. Patrick Hospital, says the reasons for obesity’s rise are no mystery. One independent study, published in The Lancet, concluded that “for every soft drink or sugar-sweetened beverage a child drinks every day, their obesity risk jumps 60 percent.”
“The average 6-year-old watches two hours of TV a day,” Maxwell said, adding that Coca-Cola spent $500 million on advertising in the year 2000, and McDonald’s spent $1 billion.
“The fact that there are Coke machines in any Missoula schools is appalling,” Maxwell said.
Heidi Halverson, a dental hygienist, says she has treated 16-year-olds who needed dentures—a condition she thinks may have been brought on by pop overload.
“Why doesn’t teaching kids help?” Halverson asks, rhetorically.
“Because we leave the Coke machine in the hallway even as we say, ‘Don’t drink it.’”
UM Professor of Nutritional Science Blakely Brown adds that pop products have decreased childrens’ appetite for milk and water.
In an effort to rectify that situation, Missoula has adopted an “only water in the classroom” program, although there is no way to know how many teachers enforce it. Missoula County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Supervisor Linda Samel hopes to convince the School Board to keep vending machines closed until an hour after lunch.
“It’s sad to say, but a lot of programs at school depend on some of that [vending machine] money for support. The band, sports programs—they’ve got to come up with that money somehow,” Samel says.
Ellen Brown, a parent and coordinator for MOVE, a Missoula group promoting healthful eating and physical activity, says she would like to see a letter-writing campaign to Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The message: Stop hurting our kids.