When you think of Oregon, hiking, organic vegetables and Nike may come to mind. But the state is not all healthy and wealthy with thin thighs. Yep, Oregon leads the states west of the Rockies in heavyweights-22 percent of the state's adults qualify as obese and 60 percent as overweight (see "The New Urban Sprawl," WW, Jan. 14, 2004).
Two bills in the Legislature want to get kids off that eaten path by banning junk food and requiring phys-ed classes in schools. The Oregon School Boards Association and the Oregon Education Association say the measures would benefit kids, but the two associations oppose the proposals.
Their reasoning boils down to cash. That is, school districts actually make money by contracting out the right to place junk-food vending machines in their hallways. And offering PE-hiring teachers and buying equipment-would cost money.
State epidemiologist Mel Kohn points out that obesity has doubled since the '80s and is now the "leading emergent public-health issue that we face." Obesity has also been linked to asthma, diabetes, and alcohol and drug use.
"We don't debate the issue of obesity," says David Williams of the OSBA, who points out that schools statewide are already starved by $400 million. Mandating PE is unfeasible considering that the "bill provides no mechanism to pay for it," Williams says.
Portland Public Schools gobbled up more than $292,000 last year alone in vending-machine contracts. "How do I tell a school district you can't have that money anymore?" asks Sen. Vicki Walker (D-Eugene).
There's no question that schools are in a tight spot, especially PPS, which has heavier demands on it from special-ed students, non-English-speaking immigrants, etc.
But here at the Rogue Desk, it seems like you should hold to some principle somewhere. Selling access to kids like they're a commodity would be a good place to draw that line. And not tormenting kids with gym class? That's downright un-American.