Tackling the pounds—Changes in state policy fight student obesity

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EL PASO — Not too many years ago, students eagerly awaited the bell that signals lunchtime, anticipating french fries, a can of Pepsi, and a chocolate chip cookie.

Now, however, those same students have been challenged to abandon some of the junk foods they crave.

In 2007, revisions were made to the Texas Public School Nutrition Policy to create a weapon to battle obesity in children.

Texas public high schools have had to start abiding by laws that mandate healthier lunch foods, as well as changing vending machine products on their campuses.

“Our snack bars are all run by the district cafeterias and have to abide by the changes in the law,” says Dr. Carla Gonzales, Chapin High School Principal.

“Everything they serve; the ingredients, the amounts, all have to meet the guidelines set forth by the federal government. They try to make it more or less what the kids like but just have to adjust the ingredients and recipes a little bit.”

Apparently, at least for some students, eating healthier is not posing too great an obstacle.

“Despite what kids might say our kids actually do eat their food, you see very little full plates being thrown away,” says Dr. John Tanner, Austin High School Principal.

Although changes have been made to the foods available on campus, high school students are still able to make “unhealthy” decisions during their lunch periods due to the option of leaving campus for lunch.

Often, fast food restaurants line the streets around El Paso high school campuses tempting students to make unhealthy nutrition choices.

“Despite what kids might say our kids actually do eat their food..." says Dr. John Tanner. (Diana Amaro/Borderzine.com)

“Despite what kids might say our kids actually do eat their food..." says Dr. John Tanner. (Diana Amaro/Borderzine.com)

“Once they’re off campus, they’re free to get whatever they want,” says Dr. Samuel Hogue, Andress High School Principal.

“This is high school; students do have certain freedoms and privileges in being older so they have opportunities to choose their foods; so they can circumvent our efforts by leaving.”

Despite the effort by the public school systems to convey the importance of healthy eating to their students, educators insist that parents must do their share.

Learning good nutrition in their own homes can assist students when they are out on their own deciding what to eat for lunch.

“The parents set an example for their kids to have meal patterns,” said Maria Duarte-Gardea, Department Chair of Public Health Sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso. “If the parents are committed to offer their kids a balanced diet at home, that will benefit their kids.”

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