Task force studies recommendations on children's health

Thursday, January 15th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A private group is recommending establishing a minimum fitness education program in Oklahoma schools, while eliminating ``unhealthy'' snacks in vending machines.

Recommendations of the Fit Kids Coalition, a group sponsored by the Integris hospital group, were debated Thursday by a task force trying to find ways to improve children's health.

Most of the group's proposals are aimed at reducing obesity, identified as the No. 1 health problem of Oklahoma children.

Physicians and dietitians have warned that unhealthy eating habits could lead to Oklahoma's children becoming the state's first generation to ever lead shorter lives than their parents.

Sen. Bernest Cain, D-Oklahoma, task force member, said he would like to rid schools of vending machines, but that might not be possible because of opposition from schools that profit from vending machine sales.

He said some middleground might have to be found to limit consumption of unhealthy snacks and soft drinks with no nutritional value.

Cain tried unsuccessfully two years ago to pass a bill to remove vending machines from elementary schools.

The Fit Kids Coalition is proposing to replace unhealthy beverages and snacks in elementary and middle schools with ``healthy'' options.

In high schools, the group proposes ``incentive'' pricing where vending machines would dispense healthy options at lower prices than regular snacks.

Dr. John Bozalis of Oklahoma City, chairman of the task force, said policy-makers needed to make some choices that would make a difference because of the enormity of the problem.

``It's time for a paradigm change,'' Bozalis said.

Task force members spoke favorably of a plan that would require schools to set aside 150 minutes a week for student physical education and classes on such things as nutrition and tobacco prevention.

They also liked a proposal to create health advisory committees at each school and a program to reward schools for making progress in the fitness of their students.

Cain said he thinks a grass-roots approach to the problem may be the best solution.