Saturday, April 30, 2011

Simple solutions to children's obesity problems

Many of our children are overweight,  and there are a plenty of studies, panels,  and new rules and regulations to combat the problem.  A half a century ago, when I was growing up, almost no kid was fat.  There were plenty of skinny kids, like me.  Why? 

I grew up in Melrose, Mass  in the 1950's and early '60s.  At that time, Melrose was an affluent suburb north of Boston with a reputation for having an outstanding school system. 

In elementary school, there were no school buses. Almost everyone walked.  There were a few rich kids whose parents drove them to school,  but the rest of the families only had one car, which was usually used by Dad  to take to work.   When I started kindergarten,  I walked five blocks to school, and by the time I went to Junior High I walked over a mile to school;  and in high school I walked  just under two miles.  If we had lived a half a block farther away from high school,  I would have been able to ride a school bus for free, because the rule was you could ride the bus if you were over two miles from high school.  I very occasionally got the school bus when I was late, but I had to pay.  That was not the worst of it:  the bus was usually so crowded, we had to stand, and many kids were smoking, so the air was blue with smoke! 

I was not athletic at all;  I was usually the last to be picked for any playground game--but walking was exercise, although we did not know it at the time.  In elementary school, there was no cafeteria, and we all went home for lunch.  That meant that every day  I walked 20 blocks just to get to school and back

We had snack in the morning, which was always white milk, and a cookie or cracker.  No one was allowed to bring any food into school, and there were no vending machines in school, so milk and a cookie were it during the day.  We only got one cookie; there was just enough for everyone.
In Junior High, we ate lunch at school, but everyone had to bring lunch, because there was no cafeteria serving food.  I think white milk was offered.  Again, no food other than a lunch bag was allowed in school, and there were no vending machines.

We kids almost always stopped at the store when we went home after school to buy penny candy.  We all had a lot of cavities;  maybe eating that penny candy was why.  In junior high and high school, we would stop at the local ice cream store for cones or vanilla cokes after school

In high school, there was a cafeteria where you could buy your lunch.   Most kids didn't buy lunch; we usually brought our lunch to school.  The cafeteria only had white milk for a beverage.  There were no vending machines, and food was only allowed to be consumed in the cafeteria. 

So, the obesity problem was solved a half century ago with simple rules that did not cost taxpayers anything.  Kids walked to school unless they lived more than two miles from the schoolhouse.  Vending machines were not allowed;  only milk was served as a beverage, and food was only consumed in the cafeteria. 

To be sure, having children walk to school today is bigger problem because of higher traffic, faster speeds,  and sidewalks in disrepair.   And parents today fear for their children's safety, so they drive them to school.  But walking could become again routine for children, as the problems that keep children from walking to school are easily solved at minimal cost. More crossing guards at appropriate places, and more traffic lights or signs could be posted.  Fixing sidewalks would benefit not only children, but all walkers.  And parents' fears can be alleviated with some facts:  The statistics show that our towns and cities are as safe as they were when I was growing up.  In addition, children are already educated about safety when walking to school, so the risk to children is minimal--and certainly much less than the health risks associated with obesity.

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