August 28, 2012

My Point Is...Healthy costs extra

By Nita Johnson
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — As reports circulated about Kentucky being one of the highest states for both adult and childhood obesity, a television station posed a poll question that asked if additional taxes or “luxury” taxes should be imposed on unhealthy or ‘junk’ foods. The taxpayers, of course, would be the ones paying the extra tax, which in turn is given to low income families receiving food stamps and who have been known to purchase large amounts of junk food each month--basically costing the working people the additional tax plus their regular tax for those who pay no tax for their free food.

But a quick trip through the grocery store will easily answer any questions as to why today’s consumers often choose the ‘junk’ food over ‘healthy’ foods.

First of all, the junk foods and fast foods are instant.

Families on the run between activities often utilize the fast food restaurants as the evening dinner, soaking up gobs and gobs of unsaturated fats, oils and calories. Most parents in their right minds are not going to insist on children partaking of salads while en route to a destination due to the risk of an unintended vegetable garden on their vehicle’s seats and floors.

Secondly, eating healthy is more costly than ‘junk’ foods. Compare a bag of apples to a bag of potato chips. Even name brand chips are cheaper than a 3-pound bag of apples. Ditto for a head of lettuce, pack of tomatoes, or bag of potatoes.

While the price of soft drinks continues to rise as fast as gas prices, comparing the costs of milk or juice with the quantity of soft drinks still weighs out cost-wise in favor of soft drinks. Ounce per ounce and penny for penny, junk foods win the pricing wars, hands down.

But the rating of Kentuckians as being largely obese (pardon the pun) has had its good points. Due to the massive increase of overweight children, our school systems reinstituted the badly needed P.E. classes and elementary sports programs that give children opportunity to burn up some extra calories. While students across the nation may sit for hours in front of their TVs and computers between school, they are now required to engage in some physical activity during the day.

The obesity problem also brought our own school system to offer a healthier and well-balanced lunch for its students this year. White bread has been replaced with whole wheat bread, low-calorie offerings are now available and more focus is being shifted toward encouraging children to eat a well-balanced meal.

While I applaud this effort locally, I admit being shocked when I learned that middle school students have “pop breaks.” I was even more astounded when I learned that nachos and cheese and slushies are sold in the  cafeteria during lunch time.

How can children possibly be expected to choose broccoli over nachos? What majority of school age children are going to drink non-fat or skim milk when a sweet colorful drink or sugar- and sodium laden pop lurks just around a cafeteria corner?

Such a policy is detrimental, not only to the healthy food policy, it is also discriminating against those students whose family may be on a stretched budget. Students receiving free or reduced price meals will either be excluded from the sellable treats, will trade their reduced price lunch money for the less than wholesome lunch meal, or will place parents in a financial bind to provide money so they will “fit in” with those who can afford the more appealing offerings.

While selling these extras may help generate badly needed funds for a school club or organization, it defeats the whole purpose of the healthy lunch program and puts a definite whammy on ensuring equal treatment of students.