When Manchester students return to class this month, they’ll get more than just new teachers.
This time around, healthier menus are being unveiled in our city’s public school cafeterias.
Fat has been expelled. Fried foods are out, replaced with baked entrees. Students will no longer be served fried fish or donuts or anything cooked by frying.
Also, in some school vending machines, soda and candy will be replaced by bottled water and healthy snacks. If the switch works, it’ll be expanded to all schools.
The changes are part of a city program dubbed “Get Moving, Manchester” aimed at reducing childhood obesity. Getting kids to exercise more is also part of the plan.
It’ll be interesting to see how students react to the disappearance of potato puffs and other cafeteria comfort foods. But while the “Get Moving” program is a worthy effort, taking away “unhealthy” eating choices can only do so much in dealing with America’s obesity problem.
Why? Because the reason we’re all getting fatter is not just the food we eat.
People in other nations have a similar abundance of cheap food and make just as many bad choices as Americans do. In Belgium, the national snack is French fries topped with a large dollop of mayonnaise, for Pete’s sake.
In America, a major factor in the obesity problem is that we just don’t walk anywhere anymore.
Since World War II, we’ve built suburbs that require using a car to do the simplest task. We’ve taken shopping out of neighborhoods and downtowns and moved it to malls and plazas. We’ve failed to create walkable communities and invested little in public transportation.
For many Americans today, the most walking they do is from the parking lot to the office or the shopping mall—or from the school bus to the classroom.
In Manchester and elsewhere, if we hope to combat obesity, we need to do more than change menus. We need to change long-term attitudes about how our city is developed. We need to encourage city officials and developers to create walkable neighborhoods with a mix of housing, business and retail.
Unlike many of today’s suburban communities, Manchester is blessed with a dense urban infrastructure of gridded blocks and a downtown layout that pre-dates the auto age. In years to come, as the demand for walkable communities grows, this may turn out to be one of the city’s great assets.
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