June 23, 2006

State will regulate the selling of “junk food” at schools in Baja California

By Luis Alonso Pérez

When the recess bell rings on the first day of class next school period, students at Baja California’s grade schools will get a big surprise when they notice that many of the snacks they enjoyed have been replaced with healthier food items.

This change comes as a result of reforms to the public health code and the application of new health programs by the state legislature and Baja California’s health department.

These initiatives respond to concerns from regional education and health authorities, as well as teacher’s and parent’s concern, about the growing rate of obesity cases and gastrointestinal problems among grade school students in Baja California.

One of the main causes of these health problems derive from the lack of good eating habits among students and the selling of junk food in the school stores, better known as “cooperativas”.

According to Doctor Daniel Millán Alcántara, head of health promotion at the state department of health, the lack of information is the root of these problems, because most of parents ignore the medical consequences of an improper nutrition, since overweight not only affects a child’s appearance, it can lead to obesity, a high risk factor which can lead to illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular problems or osteoporosis.

“We must act at a young age, providing information and orientation not only to children, but to parents and teachers too” said Millán, warning that in some cases it’s not simply obesity, and he has seen many cases of anemic obese children, because some kids “only have high levels of body fat caused by the consumption of carbohydrates and fatty foods, but don’t have a healthy and balanced nutrition”.

Some of the foods and snacks that regulation will place special attention to is hard caramel candy, bubble gum, fried snacks, chips and spicy condiments make out of fruit pulps, better known as “Chamoy,” causing the new legislative reforms to be named the “Antichamoy law.”

Francisco Javier Parral León, technical secretary of Congressman Elías López Mendoza, one of the developers of the law ‘antichamoy law,’ explained that the reforms consist in modifications to the 24th article of the public health code, stating that sanitary, educative and labor authorities have the obligation to oversee the quality of the food sold at schools.

According to Parral León, these changes have been received with wide approval from parents and teachers. He recently received a call from the head of a national parents association operating in 30 states, because they wanted to learn about this new law so it can be implemented in other states.

However, these laws still face a big challenge, since it’s very common for street vendors to hang out outside of the school campuses and sell the kid’s favorite snacks through the fences.

Health experts say that instead of a punitive law, it’s necessary to promote healthy eating habits among kids, since these habits prevail through adolescence and may continue though their adulthood.

“If we don’t act right now, we might be seeing the consequences in the near future” said Doctor Millan Alcantara, adding that proper exercise is also important in minors. “Exercises should not be optional; they should be an integral part of good health habits.” He added that nowadays kids spend too much time sitting around television, in front of their computers or videogames, so the energy they consume accumulates in the skin tissues and forms in what’s commonly known as “llantitas.”

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