Critics take aim at nutrition law

obese childrenSpurred by rising childhood obesity rates, state Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, pushed to get a stricter school nutrition laws on the books.

Williams succeeded, but the law is getting some unhappy reviews from educators.
Not all local education officials think state lawmakers should control what children eat. Some school officials are crafting more moderate policies for their schools.

"I don't think we should be regulating as hard how children eat," Norwich Board of Education Chairman Charles Jaskiewicz said. "If the government wants to attack the problem of physical obesity, it's got to start at home and not at school, because what's to stop kids from eating a pack of Yodels or drinking soda at home?"

State lawmakers' first foray against childhood obesity came as a 2004 law requiring schools to offer healthy food and drinks wherever soda and junk food was sold.

Nationally, the percent of overweight children, ages 6 to 11, more than doubled in the past 20 years, rising from 7 percent in 1980 to 18.8 percent in 2004, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The obesity rate among adolescents between 12 and 19 more than tripled during the same span, increasing from 5 to 17.1 percent.

"Childhood obesity is an epidemic across the country and we have a responsibility to set models early in life so that the people of Connecticut will live healthy lives," Williams said.

Yet, philosophically, local administrators' school nutrition policies differ widely from the state nutrition laws.

Norwich's Wequonnoc Elementary School Principal Albert Wojtcuk agrees with moderating children's junk food intake, but he believes the bigger problem is at home.

"Very few kids sit at a table and eat dinner, they just watch TV or play video games," said Wojtcuk. "The family getting together is a rare thing."

In Montville, Oakdale Elementary School Principal Mark Johnson isn't ready to phase out the cupcake.

"But, I'd like to see fruit and pretzels and other alternatives at school parties," he said.

Yet at Montville's Charles E. Murphy Elementary School, Principal Jeff Newton and a school wellness committee have banned treat-filled birthday parties.

Aside from what children pack in their lunches, the school allows sweets only on Halloween, Valentine's Day and Christmas.

"It just got to be too crazy on birthdays and holidays," Newton said. "I have a table by my door and the kids were always covering it in cookies, cupcakes and brownies from all the birthdays and holidays."

source - Norwich Bulletin