Fast food, fat food

September 12, 2005

IT'S NO SURPRISE that young people are a key target market for the fast food industry. But it's still sobering to contemplate the results of a recent study by Harvard's School of Public Health showing the extent to which fast food places are located near schools. Though the study covered only Chicago, the researchers speculate that the same pattern exists in a lot of other cities.

The study found that nearly 80 percent of Chicago's schools had at least one fast food restaurant within a half-mile, probably within a 10-minute walk. Researchers cited previous studies showing that, on a typical day, almost one-third of American youths eat fast food. Those youngsters take in more calories, fats and sugars and eat fewer fruits and vegetables than on the days when they don't eat fast food.

It is little wonder that an estimated 16 percent of American children, or 9 million, ages 6 to 19 are seriously overweight or obese - triple the number since 1980.

In what should be considered a more positive development, the American Beverage Association recently announced a new policy to cover soft drink sales in schools. The policy limits beverage vending machines to water and 100 percent juice drinks in elementary schools; allows only full-calorie soft drinks or juice drinks in middle schools during after-school hours; and limits soft drinks to 50 percent of vending selections in high schools. It sounds responsible, but many schools have already imposed those, or even more stringent, limits on beverage sales. And, an increasing number of school districts are offering more nutritious cafeteria menus.

Those efforts need to intensify. The Chicago study shows that the competition is moving closer and closer.

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