In the fall of 2017 RiseVt took the unprecedented step of figuring out the body mass index [BMI] of every first, third and fifth grader in Franklin and Grand Isle counties, all 2,000 of them. The purpose was to establish a baseline number from which future numbers could be compared. The follow up — two years hence — was completed this past fall, with the same grades, and the tentative results show that the overweight and obesity figures were no higher this year than in the prior study, which is good news. Superb, in fact.

That said, the percentage of those who were overweight or obese was 41 percent. And we’re talking about first, third and fifth graders — kids six to 10 years old. There is also nothing debatable about the numbers; 97 percent of the students agreed to be measured and the information was not self-reported, but gathered by professionals. The results are categorical.

It’s crucial information because the odds are considerable that if a six-year-old is overweight or obese that same six-year-old will remain so as they get older, if the habits don’t change. The 41 percent figure is terrifying for those who look at long term trends in health care and its attendant costs.

And, remember, Vermont is a healthy state. One of the healthiest.

With this in mind, we should all be furious with the Trump administration which last week announced plans to roll back the school nutrition programs put in place by the Obama administration in 2010. The school nutrition programs were the signature effort of First Lady Michelle Obama, the purpose being to provide breakfasts and lunches that were a smidgen healthier than in the past, meals that would include exotic things like fruits and vegetables.

The Trump administration — through its Agriculture Department — has proposed rolling back those standards, allowing schools to serve more burgers, pizza and French fries. It defended the proposed roll back saying the relaxed standards would result in less food waste.

Seriously.

The reason for the roll back is two-fold; first, the higher standards also had the Obama name attached, which, in this administration, is verboten; Second, the proposed roll backs are a sop to big business, the potato lobby in particular had made the roll back one of its causes.

What a shock.

It’s a disgusting display of ignorance by the administration, and a telling genuflect before big business. It’s all about the money. Our children’s health notwithstanding.

What’s frightening is that for the 30 million students who partake in school breakfasts and lunches almost 50 percent of their daily calories are consumed while in school. They are a captive audience; provide them healthy things to eat and that’s what they eat. It becomes something they ask their parents to buy at the supermarket. Provide them burgers, fries and unlimited slices of pizza and, guess what, that’s what they eat. As we know, we are what we eat.

The result is there for us all to see; a 41 percent overweight and obese figure. That number is triple what it was for these children’s parents. Triple.

And the Trump administration wants to step away from fruit and vegetables for today’s students, and substitute, instead, pizza, burgers and French fries?

Not only is that retarded, it contradicts the scientific evidence collected that showed the progress being made with the healthier food choices, and, in so doing, it puts these children’s lives at risk as they age. If not corrected, it represents a massive increase in the next generation’s health care costs.

Oh, we forgot. Silly us. This administration doesn’t do science and they pay particular attention to big campaign contributors.

But, we’re not without our voices. The administration’s roll-back proposals have been published, with a March 23 deadline for public comment. As a state, that gives us the time to coordinate a response. This is something that would most appropriately be done through RiseVt, which is now a statewide organization, the Vermont Department of Health, our educational system and our congressional delegation. Perhaps even a Town Meeting Day ballot people could sign, a collective Vermont signature for our children’s better health and, in the future, a more affordable health care system? We have the power to say no, and we should.

by Emerson Lynn

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