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Schools Chief Orders Obesity Study

MONTGOMERY, AL - Alarmed by childhood obesity, state Superintendent of Education Joe Morton will order a review of vending machine products sold to Alabama students, school nutrition and other health-related issues. Morton said he will appoint a task force next month on student health and expects its report for the state school board by January.

'I'm not trying to create a committee to tell every parent what to serve every night for dinner,' he said in a recent Birmingham News story. 'But I think it's pretty evident that when you combine a lack of physical activity with a diet that is high in fat content, high in calories, you have a recipe for some major health issues.'

Morton said he's alarmed by the number of overweight children and the many problems that creates, from high blood pressure and fatigue to diabetes and increased chances of heart disease later in life. According to U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, obesity is the fastest-growing cause of disease and death in America.

In Alabama, an estimated 340,000 children are growing up overweight. If the obesity epidemic is not stemmed, the current generation of children and teens will be the first in memory to have shorter lives than their parents, researchers warn.

Miriam Gaines, nutrition and physical activity director at the Alabama Department of Public Health, said Morton's move to form a task force is overdue. 'Clearly, the school is not the only influence on our children when it comes to dealing with the issues of obesity and the high cost it is taking on our children's health,' Gaines said.

Morton expects the task force will 'look at a whole range of issues,' including vending machines, cafeteria food and PE programs.

The Associated Press, August 2004

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