June 2nd, 2011

Despite law, junk food still reigns

Portland Tribune

It’s a sure sign of school lunchtime when the line forms outside 50th Avenue Market, a convenience store down the street from Franklin High School.

At Franklin, much like other Portland high schools, a stream of students leaves school at lunchtime to buy soda pop and other junk food that public schools are no longer permitted to sell, under the Healthy Foods for Healthy Students state law enacted in 2007.

Paul Sandhu, a sales clerk at 50th Avenue Market, remembers being mad that he could no longer buy soda pop at Molalla High School when the law took effect in 2008, while he was a student.

“Like these kids, I left the school to buy food outside school,” Sandhu says. Now he’s selling energy drinks, candy bars, muffins and other foods to Franklin students.

Sophomore Gabriella Karp popped by the store after school recently to buy some Cheetos and a Sprite. “School food in general isn’t that great,” says Karp, who often leaves campus for lunch to buy pizza and go to Burger King and other fast-food joints. Snacks in Franklin vending machines are unappealing, she says, and there’s no soda pop in the beverage machines.

“We go out to lunch to buy them anyway,” Karp says. As a result, though, “We end up going late to class sometimes.”

Oregon’s public schools are a laboratory for public health campaigns to address the alarming increase in obesity.

Medical researchers warned in 2005 that today’s children might be the first generation in American history to have shorter lifespans than their parents, because of increased obesity and the maladies it causes, such as diabetes.

More than a third of the calories youngsters consume each day come while they’re at school, and students who are overweight at age 10 to 15 are 80 percent more likely to be obese by age 25, according to one study.

But government efforts to play food cop have their limitations.

“They think it’s going to be good for the kids; it’s really not,” Sandhu says. “They’re just going off campus and they’re skipping school.”

And public health advocates say the 2007 law came with no enforcement tools.
Getting around the law

Some Franklin students have discovered they can sneak into the custodian’s cubby to buy regular soda pop at a vending machine there. And the Franklin student store is still selling Coca Cola, Barq’s root beer and other drinks, in violation of the state law that bans sugary soft drink sales at schools.

A 2010 study by dietetic graduate students doing internships at Oregon Health & Science University found a variety of Oregon middle and high schools were still selling junk foods that didn’t comply with the law at student stores and vending machines.

Portland and other school districts have found it easier to assure compliance by relying on contracts with vending machine suppliers, says Shannon Stember, assistant director of nutrition services for Portland Public Schools.

Paresh Patel, whose Portland company, Courtesy Vending LLC, supplies the vending machines for Portland and several other school districts, says he went to great lengths to get manufacturers and other suppliers to change their offerings so his vending machines complied with the law. For example, the Franklin snack machines sell baked Doritos tortilla chips that have 50 percent less fat than regular Doritos. Yet Patel still finds unfair competition when some school student stores and other concessions don’t comply.

About a month ago, Patel says, he noticed a public school concession less than 30 feet from the main office. “It had every single thing that you can imagine you’re not supposed to have.”

Read more: http://portlandtribune.com/news/story.php?story_id=130696691881042200


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