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Healthier food could help kids' school performance

Nov. 2, 2006

By VAN DARDEN

We're getting too fat.

And not just fat -- we're getting unhealthier by the minute.

On Friday, the Dallas Morning News' lead story was about how Texas elementary and high schools, including several Dallas, San Antonio and (the United States' fattest city) Houston area school districts, had actually lost more than $54,000 in federal meal reimbursements.

School districts had to pay fines, which were assessed based on violations of such criteria as "cookies too large" and "french fries more than one time per week for elementary." Reimbursements are offered through federal child nutrition programs, which give money to districts whose meals meet certain dietary requirements.

But get this -- the schools don't care.

For instance, the nutrition department for Frisco Independent School District posted $109,000 in profits in 2003-04 from selling four items.

That's it, just four. Candy bars, sports drinks, extra-large cookies and large muffins. Sucrose, glucose, sodium and rot.

Even outside of the school, almost every major fast-food chain (and certainly most of the ones over at Cholesterol City, across the highway) has upped the sizes of their drinks and sides. Now when opt to super-size your value meal, you can build a french-fry raft and sail away in an ocean of Dr Pepper.

Forget for a moment the mental image of an 8-year-old's arteries already clogging even as he sits 10 inches from the television, lost in some ADD-HD (that's attention deficit disorder in high definition -- the scary new way to see desperation up close) cartoon fantasy.

Recent studies have linked classroom behavior to what kind of diet a student has.

Researchers found that students who eat a high sugar breakfast and gorge on fried, salty food at lunch are more likely to act out in class and maintain shorter attention spans.

Conversely, programs like the one set up by Natural Ovens bakery at Appleton Alternative School in Appleton, Wis., have shown that fresh, organic food, donated by or bought from farmers markets and cooked in-house, actually evened many of the troubled teenagers out -- at a fraction of the cost.

If Texas schools would ban -- or in some cases re-ban -- the sale of junk food, teachers actually might be able to get their students to sit down and shut up for a minute and learn. And since Texas is not exactly at the top of the nation's education list, I think we ought to be doing everything to get us there.

Or else, pretty soon the TAKS test will include a "Proper Drive-Thru Etiquette" section.

Van Darden is a senior journalism major from Waco.