Teachers urged to fight fat
Isle students should learn healthy habits in school, an expert says
A LEADING CANCER expert and adviser to Hawaii's Department of Health pushed the state's teachers yesterday to combat obesity by encouraging students to shun sugar-laden soft drinks and fast food.
Dileep Bal also urged schools to make students exercise more.
"The obesity epidemic has to be stemmed with the children," Bal told close to 400 teachers at a Waikiki meeting. "You guys can do more than the Department of Health in many ways because in the formative years, you have those kids during most of their waking hours."
Bal recently moved from California to Kauai to become the county's new health director. He is also serving as a state health adviser.
A former head of the American Cancer Society, Bal had long been chief of the Cancer Control Branch at the California Department of Health Services.
In Sacramento, Bal spearheaded many of California's anti-smoking campaigns that successfully pushed down smoking rates.
To improve Hawaii's health, Bal suggested that the state impose a 1-cent tax on every bottle of soda sold in the islands to generate revenue for health education.
And he urged schools to resist the temptation to rely on fast-food companies to sponsor fund-raisers.
"The school band uniform isn't worth killing our kids," he said.
Bal cited statistics showing that in 2000, six out of 10 Americans were obese. He added that obesity increases one's chances of getting breast cancer, colon cancer and kidney cancer.
As an example of a meal to avoid, he said a cheeseburger, Coke and fries at a well-known national restaurant chain contained 1,700 calories and 58 grams of "bad" fat. That is enough bad fat for one person for 3 1/2 days, he said.
Bal said people need to change their attitudes toward unhealthy foods and exercise just the way society has became aware of how detrimental smoking is to health.
Even the Department of Education is not immune to a lack of awareness, he said, noting the department gave Monday's conference a title inspired by the fast-food industry: "Super-Sizing Health Education! Supporting Comprehensive Health Education for Every Child!"
"Your theme is super-sizing. What are you, pawns for McDonald's? You're disseminating McDonald's twisted verbiage," Bal joked. "Don't play into this Madison Avenue glitz."
Kathy Kawaguchi, assistant superintendent of the office of curriculum instruction and student support, said schools were already doing much of what Bal suggested.
"We just need to make sure it's done on a systemic level versus pockets of excellence," she said.
Hawaii public schools do not serve fast food from national restaurant chains.
Eugene Kaneshiro, director of the school food services branch, said schools serve meals that meet minimum nutrition standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Board of Education, meanwhile, sharply restricted access to soda starting last year.
Since December, 80 percent of the drinks offered in school vending machines must be healthy options such as water, milk and fruit juice.
But the board stopped short of completely banning soda after some principals expressed concern that the move would reduce their revenue.
The Department of Education estimated that vending machines generated at least $725,000 a year for student programs.