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US: Battling childhood obesity in Philadelphia

Monday, March 28, 2011

New York Times

Philadelphia School Battles Students’ Bad Eating Habits, on Campus and Off
By MICHAEL MOSS 

PHILADELPHIA — Tatyana Gray bolted from her house and headed toward her elementary school. But when she reached the corner store where she usually gets her morning snack of chips or a sweet drink, she encountered a protective phalanx of parents with bright-colored safety vests and walkie-talkies.

The scourge the parents were combating was neither the drugs nor the violence that plagues this North Philadelphia neighborhood. It was bad eating habits.

“Candy!” said one of the parents, McKinley Harris, peering into a small bag one child carried out of the store. “That’s not food.”

The parents standing guard outside the Oxford Food Shop are foot soldiers in a national battle over the diets of children that has taken on new fervor. With 20 percent of the nation’s children obese, the United States Department of Agriculture has proposed new standards for federally subsidized school meals that call for more balanced meals and, for the first time, a limit on calories. The current standard specifies only a minimum calorie count, which some schools meet by adding sweet foods.

Earlier this year, when Michelle Obama, as part of her campaign against childhood obesity, announced that Wal-Mart would reduce salt and sugar in its packaged foods, she said, “We’re beginning to see the ripple effects on the choices folks are making about how they feed their kids.”

But this effort is up against an array of powerful forces, from economics to biology, all of which are playing out in Philadelphia, where the obesity rate is among the nation’s highest. At the intersection of North 28th and West Oxford Streets, the Oxford Food Shop and the William D. Kelley School are in a tug of war over the cravings of kids. More More

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