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Fast Food Nation

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Essay title: Fast Food Nation

As I buy my lunch at school, I am tempted by a freezer full of delicious ice-creams, all loaded with fat. A few feet further down, a vending machine full of sodas promises me a few hours of sugar-induced bliss, and a crash shortly thereafter. Elsewhere, I am drawn to chips, cookies, and chocolates that fill a well-stocked vending machine. One would think that school would be a teenager’s refuge from these forces that seek to fatten us, yet junk food infiltrates schools through vending machines more every year. School administrators must resist the quick buck that these food companies offer in order to provide healthy choices for students who want to break their dependence on junk food.

In an age when obesity among youth is becoming a concern, school vending machines are bringing more unhealthy foods to children, contributing to this epidemic. Today, 20-30% of children are either obese or are in danger of becoming obese,i a figure that has tripled over the last three decades.ii Today, 74% of middle schools and 98% of high schools provide students with access to junk food through vending machines or snack bars.iii The contents of these school vending machines are incredibly unhealthy, roughly 75% of beverages and 85% of foods have little nutritional value.iv

The situation has gotten progressively worse in recent years, as more schools sign contracts with food and beverage companies in order to obtain funding. Schools sell advertisements in their schools and buses, and give companies exclusive rights to distribute snacks in their schools. Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation tracks this phenomenon, from the first deal between a Colorado school and the Coca-Cola Company in 1993, to the commonplace contracts that occur today.v Their goal, Schlosser claims, is to get kids to drink more soft drinks and eat more unhealthy foods. Exposing children to more junk food, soft drinks, and fast food advertisements may indeed have this effect, as eating habits established by children can be extremely hard to break later in life, and can lead to many health These deals may bring much-needed money to schools, but at the expense of the health of our nation’s children.

Our schools must promote healthier eating habits in children, and avoid contributing to our nation’s health crisis. There are many alternative snacks that schools can and should start providing in their vending machines: low-fat milk instead of whole milk; real fruit juices instead of artificial, sweetened ones; low-fat chips and pretzels instead of greasy potato chips; and items such as fruits and vegetables that more children need but don’t get often enough. As Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa stated, “Junk foods in school vending machines compete with, and ultimately undermine, the nutritious meals offered by the federal school lunch program.”vii Fatty, unhealthy foods create a dependency on those quick sugar-fixes, and discourage children from eating whatever healthier foods may be provided to them.

The Oklahoma legislature has begun to take some action on these issues. Two bills in particular, House Bill 1254 and Senate Bill 265, take some preliminary steps to ensure at least some change in school vending machines. These two similar bills suggest such methods as incentive pricing, making nutritious foods cheaper than unhealthy ones, as well as barring unhealthy foods from lower school vending machines and requiring high schools

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