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Published: Tuesday, 7/1/2003

Big Apple finds a way

It's hardly a revelation that many children have lousy diets and don't get enough exercise. This major national problem seems worse in the Midwest, where corner stores are rare and no one walks to them anyway. That doesn't let public entities off the hook, nor should it.

As it did with its smoking ban, New York City is leading the way. Students in America's largest school system this fall will find no sodas, hard candy, or doughnuts in school vending machines.

By 2008, New York expects to have cut fat calories in school lunches by 30 percent. It will begin this fall to serve lower-fat versions of prepared foods such as chicken nuggets and tacos. Beef ravioli and macaroni and cheese may also go soon.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has reported that 13 percent of American children are overweight, a condition that tends to portend health problems, among them clogged arteries, heart disease, and diabetes.

Two states have acted to decrease children's weight and increase their fitness. California mandates what schools may serve in cafeterias, and Texas has new guidelines on student exercise.

At the federal level, Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine recently signed on as a cosponsor of legislation that aims to help communities and schools prevent obesity and encourage exercise and good nutrition.

Last year the Pettisville school district in Fulton County turned down a contract with Pepsi Cola that would have given it about $8,000 a year. Unfortunately, Toledo Public Schools negotiated an ill-considered contract with Coca-Cola.

Soft drink companies have tried to corner school markets, creating kickback deals on beverage machines in schools in exchange for district-wide exclusivity. It was such a deal that the TPS board bought into, paying more attention to anticipated income than responsibility to the youngsters in their care.

In an equally specious deal this year, Coca-Cola in March announced a $1 million grant to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. In return for the cash, Coke gets to teach the academy about promoting children's overall good health. Imagine what that will be about. The soft drink industry disagrees that their sodas cause cavities or make people fat.

With school boards and medical associations for sale, the New York City action is all the more laudable. It charts a kid-centered, healthy way to go.

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