Sitting on the counter at Main Squeeze, a natural foods restaurant on Ninth Street, is a petition calling for an end to junk food in public school vending machines.
Leigh Lockhart, owner of Main Squeeze, said that since she displayed the petition started by a Columbia group many people have signed. She thinks allowing the sale of junk food in schools contributes to the growing problem of Americans’ obesity.
With the start of school, the debate about the quality of food in vending machines is back.
Lockhart thinks that educators need to become more aware of diet problems among schoolchildren and that consumers should think more about what they eat. Asked what people can do to gain control of their lives, Lockhart immediately answered: “Critical thinking.”
People need to evaluate how valuable food is in their lives and take small steps to change their diets to become healthier, she said.
Lockhart plans to do more than petitioning to get her point across to the Columbia Public School District. She attends School Board meetings and plans to write a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture asking it to focus on encouraging people to eat healthier foods and to do away with vending machines in schools.
“If we care about children’s health, then let’s dig our heads out of the sand and get junk food out of public schools,” Lockhart said.
Obesity plagues Americans.
“Obesity, along with smoking, is now the No. 1 risk factor of cardiovascular disease and stroke,” said Brian Walsh, communications director for the state branch of the American Heart Association.
According to the association, heart disease begins early in life through unhealthy lifestyle choices such as eating foods with high saturated fats and not exercising. Later in life, obesity is linked to coronary heart disease, which can lead to heart attacks. Obesity raises blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, raises blood pressure, lowers HDL, or “good,” cholesterol and can induce diabetes.
The association suggests that if vending machines continue to be left in schools, healthier choices should replace foods with high fat content. Walsh said granola bars and dried fruit, or refrigerated vending machines with fresh fruit and sandwiches, are options to traditional vending machines selling chips and chocolate bars.
Nyle Klinginsmith, principal of Jefferson Junior High School, said that his school doesn’t have vending machines near the cafeteria and that the machines aren’t available to students during school hours.
“We make the vending machines available to students after school for the kids involved in after-school activities or for those hungry at 2:45 p.m.,” Klinginsmith said. “Junior high students are always hungry.”
Klinginsmith said that society does have a problem with obesity, but “food choices at school aren’t necessarily a cause of obesity because, over the course of the year, they (students) don’t eat a majority of their meals at school.”
Bruce Brotzman, principal of Rock Bridge High School, said he is aware of the vending machine controversy. He said the biggest sellers in Rock Bridge vending machines are water, fruit juices and sports drinks. Soda is not sold in the cafeteria, he said.
“There is a general concern about offering healthy choices for kids, and I’m all for that,” Brotzman said.