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Looking for unhealthy teens? Follow the fast-food chain

Submitted by on Friday, 26 December 2008 No Comment

Other than what people who are so Pepsi-addicted they feed it to babies in bottles sneak to them behind my back and a shared diet Sierra Mist once a week with popcorn, the guys don’t drink much soda.

The exception: Christmas Day, when Santa loads a couple cans of caffeine-free Pepsi in their stockings. I foolishsly started that tradition on a whim when Big Guy was 2 and, unfortunately, it’s something he’s looked forward to ever year since.

It was the first thing they looked for this morning and the last thing they wanted before bed tonight. In between, these milk-gulping boys drank only a half cup between them.

So I need to look no further than my own home to see the cause and effect between junk-food proximity and over consumption.

Researchers at Azusa Pacific University in California, though, took it much further with an impressive analysis that paired databases looking at children’s health with mapping information for high schools and fast-food restaurants.

The non-astounding results — at least, they didn’t astound me, but I’d just gone through a shocking personal case study: Teens at schools within a half mile of fast-food joints ate less fruits and vegetables, drank more soda and were more likely to be overweight or obese.

Study co-author Brennan Davis told WedMed Page Today that almost 28 percent of the teens schooled close to fast food were overweight and 12 percent was obese. That’s in a state where only 13 percent of children were overweight in 2005, according to statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The new study also showed stronger obesity trends in low-income and ethic neighborhoods, findings that echoed a study earlier this month showing that low-income teens are three times more likely to be obese than their wealthier counterparts.

Davis suggested a number of possible cures for what ails teens: education regarding healthy eating habits, limiting student access during lunchtime, and in extreme situations, zoning limitations.

Limiting lunchtime access is a great move, and one schools have been moving toward anyway as concerns have risen about the liability of open campuses. Maybe next California’s junk-food ban will become more reality than myth. I still see a lot of things served in Big Guy’s cafeteria that I won’t let him take in his lunch.

Think zoning is preposterous? It’s already happening in Los Angeles, where the city council has declared a moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in a 32-mile swath of the south part of the city.

It’s a harder battle to fight in this economy, where cheap junk also is cheap calories and any move to increase food costs could send some families over the edge. That’s also why a junk-food tax is a bad idea.

So that leaves education as the most viable option.

That education has to begin at home, though — this is another one we can’t foist totally on schools. I’ll admit that’s hard in a day when even Claus is pushing Pepsi, and I’ll admit my efforts to educate Big Guy on the joys of vegetables aren’t overwhelmingly successful. Where there’s a will, though, there’s a way to spike marinara with spinach.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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