Monday, July 11, 2005

Scapegoating soft drinks

A little-noticed news item got my attention a few months ago. According to the Andover Townsman, scores from an annual national physical fitness test showed an ''appalling" decline among elementary school students. More than 100 additional Andover youngsters scored below the national average this year than when the test was last administered during the 2002-03 school year. More ominously, the number of students who fell into the 25th percentile -- the borderline obese category -- had tripled in the last two years.

My guess is that school systems throughout the Commonwealth would report similar results, and the first -- admittedly self-interested -- thing I wanted to know was whether carbonated soft drinks are available in those schools. Knowing that several bills are now pending in the Legislature that I feel unfairly blame my industry for the rising obesity rates among adolescents, I contacted the Andover schools and asked about soda in vending machines.

Guess what? There are no vending machines in the Andover elementary schools, as best as I could tell, except for a few in the teachers' lounges. So what happened in Andover to cause those plunging fitness scores? It turns out that the 2002-03 school year was the last one in which at least 90 minutes of physical education per week was required.

The reduction in Andover's phys-ed programs was the result of financial cutbacks. Yet even in the face of evidence like the Andover experience, you don't hear many political leaders and editorialists championing new funding for physical education programs. Instead, they talk about banning soda from school vending machines -- somehow believing that the one can of soda per week the average high school student consumes is a bigger contributor to obesity rates than no phys-ed classes.

The beverage industry has become the latest scapegoat in the hunt for someone to blame for America's weight problem, and it's wrongheaded. Prohibiting the sale of soda in schools will do no good and will also remove much-needed revenue that some schools use to augment the sports, music, and phys-ed programs that have been cut.

Just consider a few facts about schools and soft drinks, which many people don't realize is already a restricted product. For example: Federally funded school lunch programs prohibit the sale of carbonated soft drinks in food service areas during lunch times. Schools, not the beverage companies, determine the product mix in vending machines. The choice and control resides at the local level, as it should. Massachusetts beverage companies do not sell carbonated soft drinks to elementary schools.

I won't take issue here with studies from scientific sources that conclude there is a correlation between soft drink consumption and obesity, so long as you don't quibble with the studies indicating that juice, milk, sports drinks, and TV are the real culprits. The point is, science and the study of diet and nutrition is an evolving process. A study this year that said obesity kills nearly a half-million people a year was later corrected when it was found the figure was off by nearly 95 percent, and it added that slightly overweight people live longer than those of normal weight. What are we to make of all the conflicting data? Could it be we're being fed science with an agenda?

There's only one thing certain at the moment: Obesity is the result of many factors, including genetics, physical activity, lifestyle, and diet. Simply, it is a case of calories in versus calories expended. Targeting one food, one beverage, or one industry as the cause for what ails us makes no sense.

More here


The Organization of the United Nations turned 60 years old at the end of June. But the administration of George W. Bush celebrated this in its own way: for the fourth year in a row, it denied payment of the 34 million dollars previously given to the UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The reason: the anti-life policies that the UNFPA finances in China, supporting male and female sterilization and forced abortion for handicapped and excess children. With the 34 million dollars that it has saved, the Bush administration will finance medical assistance programs for poor women and children, and contribute to the fight against sexual trafficking in Asia.

During those same days, the UN gathered before the general assembly a meeting of representatives from the 13,000 non-governmental organizations connected to it. But not one of the 200 NGO's selected was pro-life or pro-family. Instead, there were the groups most active in opposing procreation, including the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO). The latter of these circulated a motion against the "cultural and religious forms of fundamentalism" that impede "reproductive rights."

Also during those same days, on the other side of the Atlantic, the parliament of the European Union approved - with a vote of 360 in favor, 272 opposed, and 20 abstentions - a "Resolution on the protection of minorities and on policies against discrimination." In it, religious liberty is indicated as a potential threat against the "free circulation of married or legally recognized homosexual couples within the European Union." One of the votes in favor of the resolution came from deputy Vittorio Prodi, brother of Romano Prodi, a progressivist Catholic and head of the Italian government from 1996 to 1998, as well as president of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004.

In 2002, when Prodi was president, the European Commission had to confront Bush's decision to withdraw U.S. financing from the UNFPA, devolving an almost equal sum, 32 million euros, to both the UNFPA and the IPPF.

The Holy See has its own representatives at both the EU and the UN. It enjoys the status of permanent observer at the Glass Palace, which was confirmed and reinforced by a resolution on July 1, 2004. But it does not enjoy an easy life in either of these two great international organizations.

On the contrary, the Catholic Church is frequently treated as enemy number one. This is because it is a monotheistic religion, and so is held to be a source of intolerance. And it is so above all because it is an antagonist - together with the current American administration - of the philosophy of "reproductive rights" that is the unquestionable position of the UN and the EU in matters of family and procreation.

A book has been published in Italy that brings to light for the first time in a direct and detailed way this anti-Catholic aversion of the UN and the EU. The title is explicit: "Contro il cristianesimo. L'ONU e l'Unione Europea come nuova ideologia [Against Christianity: The UN and the European Union as a New Ideology]." The authors are Eugenia Roccella and Lucetta Scaraffia. The first of these, who is not a Catholic, was a prominent advocate of the feminist movement. The second teaches contemporary history at the La Sapienza university in Rome. Assuntina Morresi produced the appendix of documentation, with a chapter dedicated to the history of the IPPF and another on its founder, Margaret Sanger (1879-1966).

In the introduction to the volume, Roccella and Scaraffia identify the root of the new ideology as the "separation between sexuality and procreation." They see the outcome of this "beyond the boundaries of abortion, in the insidious return of eugenics." And they conclude: "More than a different model of sexual behavior, but conceptually analogous to those that have preceded it in history, this is a question of a real and true utopia, because it is based upon the idea that human beings can find happiness in the realization of their sexual desires, without the moral, biological, social, and relational limitations linked to procreation. This utopia has its roots in the sexual revolution in the West during the 1960's, and it has not yet been disputed, even though it seems not to have kept its promises. It is a utopia that echoes another, one that brings painful memories: that the selection of new human beings can create a better, more healthy, more beautiful humanity.

"The imposition of this utopia upon the countries of the Third World seems to be the principal goal of the activities of many international organizations, and it influences their financial aid and diplomatic relations. This is accompanied - even more, it is its logical complement - by the pacifist utopia of those who believe that only the abolition of religion - especially the monotheistic religions - can put an end to conflicts for humanity. This way of thinking is so widespread and so deeply rooted that it cannot be disputed easily, especially in international settings. And those who dare to do so, like the Catholic Church, are criticized, punished, and accused of having impeded a radiant future of harmony." ....

More -- much more -- here

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