Legislators Worry About Students' Waistlines

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Schoolchildren consume too many soft drinks and junk food, stare at the television all evening and rarely exercise, Nevada legislators have been told.

Such behaviors help explain why 13 percent of American children are overweight, a legislative subcommittee was told Wednesday.

Members of the panel said they want to start doing something about bulging waistlines, starting with vending machines in schools.

"Kids will make healthy choices if they are given that opportunity," said Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, chairwoman of the Subcommittee to Study Medical and Societal Costs and Impacts of Obesity.

Wiener and Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, expressed their concern about junk food and soft drinks sold in vending machines in schools.

"Do we have to have vending machines?" Cegavske asked, joining with Wiener in suggesting that more nutritious foods be placed in the vending machines.

Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, said that even if the state outlawed soft drink and junk food vending machines in schools, children still would get such products. He suggested more physical education programs in schools.

The committee will hold a hearing March 22 in Carson City at which members will propose legislation to reduce obesity. The proposal would go to the Legislature in 2005.

Keith Rheault, deputy state superintendent of schools, said a new study showed that 24 percent of middle school students and 30 percent of high school students in Nevada think they weigh too much.