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Bill Clinton, the food cop, says no soda in schools
There are many lasting images from Bill Clinton’s eight years as president. One of my favorites is a smiling, sweating and overweight President Clinton jogging with his Secret Service contingent.

He admitted he was not exactly a poster boy for Fitness magazine and confessed to a weakness for McDonald’s French fries. So it seems the height of hypocrisy that he has now become the nation’s newest food cop, telling the rest of us what we can and cannot eat and drink.

The William Clinton Foundation has brokered a deal with the nation’s largest soft drink distributors to only sell water, juices, and low fat milk to elementary and middle school and only diet soda to high schools.

“This is a bold step forward in the struggle to help 35 million young people to live healthier lives,” said the former president at a press conference.

The agreement reached with the five leading soft drink distributors and the American Beverage Association (ABA) will eventually reach more than 90 percent of public schools and many private schools. This is a win/win situation for both sides. Clinton and his dietary do-gooders move one step closer to controlling our food choices, while the soft drink industry gets Clinton and a gaggle of nutritionist nut cases, sanctimonious school boards, and liberal legislators off its back.

“I think other people are going to want to follow this agreement because it just makes sense,” said Susan Neely, CEO of the ABA. You bet your bottle cap it makes sense.

According to John Sicher, publisher of Beverage Digest, the school market makes up a minuscule portion of the $63 billion industry. He told the Associated Press this agreement would have no impact on the bottom line of soda makers and sellers. The value of the good PR and avoidance of obesity lawsuits is priceless.

The losers here are the students and ultimately you and me. Now, if there was a serious medical issue here or compelling social ill, I could see some justification. However, the attack on soft drinks is all based on fizzy facts and syrupy science.

Countless reputable research reports show no link between soda consumption and obesity in children. Several more show no correlation between soda in schools and weight gain. In short, the removal of these beverages from our schools (whole milk is included in the ban) will do nothing to address the obesity problem facing young people today.

The cause for ballooning childhood waistlines is lack of physical activity. Dr. Lisa Sutherland, at the University of North Carolina has analyzed data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and found caloric intake rose 1 percent while physical activity decreased 13 percent between 1980 and 2000.

Today 49 out of 50 states do not require physical education classes, and 12 states allow students to earn PE credits for coursework done online. In the name of security many school districts have eliminated recess. School consolidation and bussing for racial balance has all but eliminated the daily exercise known by a previous generation: the walk to school.

It is time to stop blaming our food supply and our food choices for our problems. It is not our diets but our institutions and technology that are at the root of America’s weight problem. So, Bill, if you really want to improve the health of our young people, get out in the schoolyard and lead the students in some calisthenics. Then you can jog down to McDonald’s for a Coke and some fries.

This farm news was published in the May 10, 2006 issue of Farm World.