School district sends students mixed messages

When the next generation of college students arrives at USF, it may contain a greater number of students who have health issues such as diabetes and obesity. Many of these issues can be averted or improved upon through proper diet and exercise.

Officials in the Hillsborough County School District are well aware of this fact. However, the district has a $50 million, 12-year contract with Pepsi that allows the company to sell its products in the district’s schools, according to an article in Sunday’s Tampa Tribune.

But sodas are not the only culprits contributing to potential health problems in kids. In schools, the presence of vending machines and fund-raisers that sell candy and cookies also add potential future health issues. The absence of recess due to the need to prepare for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) is also not helping to keep Hillsborough’s kids healthy.

Now the district is stuck between a rock and a hard place. A nationwide federal mandate to create wellness programs by July is putting pressure on the district, yet it needs the revenue generated by its contract with Pepsi. A task force has been put into place to help create the wellness program.

Some may argue that USF’s similar contract with Coca-Cola could contribute to the downfall of health in college students, though it is general knowledge that a college student can make better food and drink choices than with a middle or high school student.

However, some think that kids need the juxtaposition of healthy choices with unhealthy choices to help them decide what is better for them.

“If we remove all choices from kids, then we aren’t educating them, we’re sheltering them,” said Pam Bowden, principal of Durant High School, in the Tribune article.

When it is making its decisions, the task force should implement policies to help teach these children about healthy choices and physical exercise. It is hopeful that this task force will think of the greater good rather than the bottom line. Yes, money is needed to fund education. Yet what good is that education going to do if these students are not healthy by the time they reach college?

Mary Kate Harrison, the Hillsborough County School District’s director of student nutrition services, commented on the district’s current practices when she posed the question, “Are we sending a consistent and positive message to our children on lifestyle habits?” in the Tribune article. No, we certainly are not.