Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Schools will feel junk food ban in pocketbook

Lucrative contracts with pop companies help support student activities.


MARISSA NELSON, Free Press Reporter2003-12-31 04:10:27

Area elementary schools -- and kids who attend them -- could feel the pinch if the province bans junk food. Both the Thames Valley and Avon-Maitland district school boards have lucrative contracts with big pop companies, contracts that provide money for sports programs and other school activities.

Thames Valley schools collectively earned $538,000 last year from an exclusive Pepsi vending machine contract. That makes the five-year deal worth about $2.5 million. Most of the cash comes from high school sales, but 64 of 156 elementary schools have drink machines.

Last year, Ingersoll District collegiate institute made the most at $28,591, while South secondary school got $12,891.

Elementary schools make less, but they, too, cash in. Bonaventure Meadows elementary school made $4,204 last year and White Oaks public school made $3,379.

But at White Oaks public school, principal Ian Bennett said none of the three vending machines in his school carries pop. Instead, they carry water and sports drinks.

"I don't let my kids drink at the dinner table so why have it in the school," he said.

Bennett admits money from the vending machines is helpful. It pays tournament fees, helps buy grad photos for low-income children and leather basket balls for games.

He also hopes to buy computerized musical equipment, which could help "catch" kids.

"It could hook them into the arts program. It could be that little hook for a kid who is reluctant or who needs encouragement," he said. "The results can be powerful."

Bennett knows the benefits of getting pupils active every day, but said it's a matter of choosing the battle. Right now, his school is focused on reading and writing.

White Oaks has scored well-below provincial averages on Grade 3 and 6 tests.

If the province does ban vending machines, the school will have to look to parents for more support and shorten the wish list, he said.

"The solution might be hard. We'll come up with a way to deal with it if we can't get money from that source."

Heather Thomas, a dietitian with the Middlesex-London Health Unit, fought the Thames Valley's Pepsi contract in 2000. She said the province's move is a "step in the right direction."

"It's a huge deal. The more accessible you make junk food, the more likely children are to choose it," she said. The only healthy option is to serve water, milk or 100 per cent fruit juices.

While taking the machines out of schools may mean less money for basketballs, Thomas asks: "What value do you put on children's health?"

It also affects learning, she said. Kids on caffeine are bouncing off walls instead of learning a new math equation.

"It will be a big fight because the machines are a fundraiser for schools," Thomas said.

"But it's not worth it. It's more worthwhile to have happy and healthy students. We need more principals to say that the health and happiness of my kids is more important than $3,300."

DISTURBING FACTS

Middlesex-London Health Unit dietician Heather Thomas provides disturbing facts:

- Soft drink consumption has tripled since 1967 while milk consumption has decreased by half. Today, teens consume twice as much carbonated beverages as they do milk.

- Consumption of milk is 30 per cent lower in schools that sell soft drinks.

- Each can of cola is the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar and about
250 calories. One can of cola is to a child what four cups of coffee is
to an adult.


Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

1 Comment:

W.G. Reid said...

Heather Thomas is just another member of 'The Mrs. Betterment Society'. Just another banal bureaucrat, whose entire portfolio is to justify her "job" and over-inflated salary. If this is the representative spokesperson for the health and well being of our children this city is in a lot of trouble. She is representative of those who care more about the perception of caring than anything else. An out of touch, elitist ribbon cutter who is more representative of the cronyism and superficiality of government agencies. She talks about health and poverty with all the insight and compassion of someone who had to look the words up in the dictionary to find out what they mean. Has Heather Thomas even been in the impoverished neighborhoods of this community ? Does she have the slightest empathy for the underprivileged and working poor relying on food banks to subsist ? You do your readers a diservice when you soft sell this type of obseqious and banal grandstander as a community do gooder. Dizzy Dean said, "It's not bragging if you're doing it !" It is , if you're not ! She's part of the problem, no where remotely in the vicinity of the solution !