2005 Essay Contest Winners

Honorable Mention: Kaylynne Canady – Perry High School/11th Grade

Unhealthy Food Tries to Go Healthy

Sarah hurriedly scampered down the stairs at Perry High School. Five minutes to get her books, talk to her friends, and get to class. To Sarah that wasn’t enough time. She quickly yanked open her locker skimming Johnny’s head as she slammed it shut. She glanced at her watch – 9:28 a.m. She had two minutes to be in the dreaded classroom. Sarah hadn’t eaten breakfast this morning and didn’t think she could make it one more hour without something to satisfy her grumbling stomach. She raced to the vending machines. What did she want? Hurry, she told herself. You’re gonna be late. Her eyes scanned the machine – chocolate donuts, cherry turnovers, M & M packages. She frantically pressed the buttons – C6 – and out came a small bag of Doritos. She checked her watch while clutching the chips and raced to chemistry class.

Could Sarah have made better decisions that morning? Sure. Sarah could have eaten breakfast. As many as 48% of girls and 32% of boys do not eat breakfast every day. [Ohio State University family and consumer sciences] Why did Sarah choose the unhealthy chips over the other options in the machines? One reason was, there was nothing healthier than her choice. The real question is, “Would Sarah have chosen a more health conscious food if available or would she have skimmed over it and stayed with the chips? Many reasons contribute to her decision.

Schools rely on vending machine income and adolescents buy unhealthy foods; therefore, the schools continue to supply them. My high school gives all the proceeds back to the students. Mr. Justus, principal, believes that kids are going to buy junk food; it’s just a matter of where they do it. He would rather them buy it in the school versus the convenience store down the street because he will make sure that it is the kids who benefit from the machines. In the past, our vending machine money has been used to purchase library material. Our school’s prom is completely paid by the vending machines. “I would rather the kids worry about their school work than worrying about raising money to pay for luxuries like the prom,” says Mr. Justus.

Empty calories are another reason why Sarah may have chosen the vending machines. “Empty calories are those foods that contain little, if any nutritional value to your diet. Empty calories are generally extremely high in calories and fat. They aren’t very fulfilling and leave one hungry.” [Diet Bites] We as young adults tend to crave instant gratification and empty calories suffice us.

“Oklahoma has a growing problem of diabetes and the highest rate of heart disease of any state in the country.” [Senator Bernest Cain, D-Oklahoma City] Recently a bill passed the Oklahoma Senate which states that elementary and junior high schools can only provide nutritional food except on special occasions and after-school activities for the junior high. In high schools, all foods can be sold, but schools must offer alternatives and incentives for better diets. [Ron Jenkins AP writer]

Because overweight children and adolescents are more likely to become overweight or obese adults, this poses a huge national health problem. “Obesity is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, asthma, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, high blood cholesterol, and other problems. In fact, 4% of adolescents now have “adult onset” diabetes and, in some clinics, teens represent half of all new cases.” [Safeguard of Students campaign] Although the contributing factors of obesity are many and not pinpointed, it is clear that school food programs have contributed. “According to data from the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 74% of middle and junior high schools, and 98% of senior high schools, have vending machines or snack bars where junk foods and soft drinks are sold.” [Safeguard of Students campaign]

I have often heard and personally believe that unhealthy foods just taste better. Marketers have overcome the challenge of maintaining the flavor and taste of foods with added nutraceuticals, substances that provide medical or healthy benefits, by using new technologies and ingredient implementing techniques. “In the last year several new products in the meat, water, and confectionery categories have been introduced with nutraceutical positioning.” [Unhealthy food goes Healthy]
My suggestion to lessen the problem of students choosing unhealthy vending machine food is money. It’s sad to say but people respond to it. In my opinion, both health conscious foods and empty calories should be offered.

The differences would be prices. Healthier foods would be made significantly lower in prices and more available. If that were to happen, at a quick glance students would see less costly foods more and hopefully be more likely to choose those. Unhealthy eating is a learned habit that usually begins when children begin secondary schools because that is the time when parents stop packing their lunches and let the child decide what to eat. Healthy vending machines need to start in the elementary schools. At that time, the children will grow through their years learning proper nutrition and better habits.

As I walked down the hall today, I saw various signs posted on the wall. One portrayed a beautiful girl with discolored, rotten teeth due to smoking, another about giving blood to save lives, and one encouraging the choice of fresh fruit and milk in the morning. We as students see those posters everyday but to most, those posters do no good. The point of the posters is to help students “become aware” and “hopefully change our ways.” How many students are influenced by them? I don’t think that much commercialization and “awareness” of the vending machine problem will impact students.

We cannot minimize the impact of this problem. This issue directly includes us, the future dominate generation. If this problem isn’t resolved, this country’s future looks nothing short of becoming the most self inflicted health deficient in our country’s history.

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