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At Childhood Obesity Forum, Talk of Twinkies and Intervention


November 19, 2012

HARTFORD State Public Health Commissioner Jewel Mullen called for silence in memory of the Twinkie on Monday, a lighter moment during a forum on childhood obesity that drew community health advocates and school nutrition directors from across the state.

Members of the Connecticut Coalition Against Childhood Obesity, which organized the forum, said there needs to be extensive intervention, beginning with prenatal care, to curb the "epidemic" that is linked to chronic health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

A report that the state public health department released last month revealed that one-third of students in kindergarten and third grade are overweight or obese, including a higher percentage among black and Latino children. The study was based on data from about 8,000 students in 74 elementary schools.

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said the health disparities and the achievement gap are related and that educators must push for "the whole child to succeed." Connecticut's application for a federal waiver from the No Child Left Behind law included a pledge to make fitness part of a long-term plan.

The state's education reform bill, approved in May, requires at least 20 minutes of physical activity each day for public school students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

"We should show students that there can be self-efficacy, there can be optimism," Pryor told the crowd at the state Legislative Office Building.

Psychology Professor Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, argued Monday that education campaigns on health and nutrition have not worked and that governments should limit access to the "toxic" food and drinks that contribute to the rising number of diabetes cases and the burden of health-care costs.

"When people are exposed to a toxic environment, they get sick," said Brownell, who has called for states to impose a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. He estimated that such a tax in Connecticut one penny per ounce, for example could generate $145.8 million in annual tax revenue.

In 2006, state lawmakers narrowly approved a toughest-in-the-nation school nutrition bill banning the sale of soda and sports drinks in public schools.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, the bill's lead supporter, described the battle with soda industry lobbyists as "hand-to-hand combat."

"Sometimes people say... 'School nutrition bill, oh, what a nanny state.' Well, hey, we're supposed to take care of our children," Williams said. "That's the whole point. We're the adults. These are kindergartners and third-graders and fifth-graders! Where's our responsibilty in all this?"

Pryor said he did not want to joke about the Twinkie or its creator, Hostess Brands, which employs about 200 people in Connecticut who could lose their jobs. On Monday afternoon, news outlets reported that Hostess agreed to mediation with its bakers' union.

"That's a very serious subject and we ought to work very hard to ensure that a quality company remains intact," Pryor said, "but have you seen what's going on regarding the Twinkie and the Ding Dong? Truly, there is hoarding going on at grocery stores ... There is something severely warped about our society when that's true."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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