Fiscal no-fizz

Pop machine removal the right decision

Some students may be in for a surprise when classes resume at Hood River Valley High School next week.

The soda pop vending machines are gone.

Praise to the Hood River County School District for making this decision. As a society, we all understand that schools should not actively or tacitly approve the sale and use of carbonated, sugar-laced beverages in our schools.

For several years the district has mulled the decision to do away with soda vending machines. (HRVHS had been the only school in the district with such machines.) The time had come to make it official. The timing is right, with the brightly lit behemoths gone over the summer. (Other vending machines, including food and juice and water, are still in place.)

The decision does not bar students from buying sodas and bringing them to school. It just removes the district from being an active part of that beverage choice.

The downside is one the district can live with: The projected loss of about $7,000 in revenue. The district has demonstrated its ability to cut costs where needed, so this fractional bit of trimming should not be an issue.

Superintendent Pat Evenson-Brady said it well: “The board made a choice that while cutting the pop machine revenue ... was not desirable, it was even less desirable to continue to market unhealthy beverage choices to students through vending machines.”

The move is important for children’s general health, for their dental health, and for reducing obesity. The state Department of Health announced last week that for 2002-2004, Oregon was the only state in the nation to hold the line in the battle against obesity, according to new health data compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The finding was part of a report issued Tuesday by Trust for America’s Health, a national advocacy group.

Nationally, the percentage of obese adults in 2002-04 was 22.7 percent, an increase from 2001-03, when it was 22 percent. Oregon’s rate held steady at 21 percent.

Public health officials in the Oregon Department of Human Services say it’s difficult to point to a single factor that would dramatically change the state’s rate and they caution that it’s too early to say if this reflects a trend that will be more long-lasting.

Said Mel Kohn, M.D., state epidemiologist, in a press release, “Examples of broad improvements that could have a positive influence include neighborhoods and communities that are designed for safe walking and bicycle travel, and schools and businesses that offer healthy eating choices.

“The fix for this will require sustained involvement from a wide array of community partners.”

The key partner in the Hood River Valley decision was the students themselves, making the decision far more refreshing than any famous cola could hope to be. Student leaders pointed out to their school administrators the contradiction of selling carbonated beverages on campus while health classes and other settings instructed students about the ills of such products.

Something else was removed along with the machines themselves: A negative role model of a sort. Younger children visiting the campus will see no soda machines there, and be less likely to view such choices as something to emulate.

As healthy as this decision is, however, it must be emphasized that the schools play just one part in helping children develop healthy nutrition practices. It’s good and well the school took out the machines, but children in general must continue to be shown the need to choose milk, water, or juices, along with fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods.

That said, give kudos to the school district for being fiscal without the fizz. Things will taste better.

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