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May 07, 2007 - Image 5

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Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2007-05-07

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

RACHEL WAGNER
Trimming down childhood obesity

You don't have to be Jenny
Craig or Richard Simmons
to see that America has
a weight problem. Adult obesity
rates have soared since the 1970s,
climbing from 15 percent to about
33 percent in 2004.
Evenmore
alarming, Ending obesi-
two thirds of
all adults are ty takes more
considered than apples
overweight. and "DDR"
Blame the
proliferation mats.
of fast-food
restaurants, the lack of physical
exercise or the media's portrayal of
unrealistically skinny people (now
with size 00, you can apparently be
less than nothing). But from what-
ever angle you take, it's clear that
America needs to trim some inches
from its waistline.
But this weight-related concern
is not a vanity issue; it's a health
issue. There is nothing inherent-
ly wrong with being a size 4 or a

size 14. There is something wrong
when a person's weight endangers
his or her life. Diseases like dia-
betes, heart disease and hyper-
tension are side effects of being
dangerously overweight. Lately,
these typically adult afflictions
have started to creep their way
into younger generations.
Childhood obesity is a growing
problem. More than 30 percent of
children between the ages of 6 and
11 are considered overweight and
15 percent are considered obese.
While genetics may play a part,
poor eating habits and inactivity
are the key causes of this alarming
trend.
The American Obesity Asso-
ciation has called today's kids "the
mostinactivegenerationinhistory."
Children are playing fewer sports
and more video games. Watermel-
on Jolly Rangers have replaced real
watermelon. With less active forms
of entertainment and tempting
sugary snacks, today's youth do not
have the practical habits to ensure

a healthy future.
School officials and legislators
alike have started the necessary
fight against childhood obesity by
targeting nutrition and exercise
practices in the classroom. Gym
classes are going beyond tradi-
tional kickball and basketball to
combine the appeal of video games
with physical activity.
At least 10 states regularly use
"Dance Dance Revolution," the
interactive dance video game, in
their gym curriculums to make
kids actually break a sweat. West
Virginia, the state leading this
movement, aims to install "DDR"
in all 765 of its public schools by fall
of this year.
Even if some school children
won't be playing "DDR" in gym
class, they probably will find new
food options in their cafeterias.
Last year, former President Bill
Clinton partnered with the Ameri-
can Heart Association to improve
nutritional education and work
with food suppliers to provide

healthier snack and drink options
in schools.
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer has
also joined in the fight by backing
the Healthy Food Act in the state
legislature. The ambitious bill
would ban soda and many junk
foods from schools and set limits
for the sugar, sodium and fat con-
tent of cafeteria food.
Michigan could use some of this
ambition. Despite beingranked 19th
nationally in highest rates of child-
hood obesity, Michigan has yet to
pass any preventative legislation.
Eliminating certain foods from
cafeterias and implementing DDR
in gym classes are useful mea-
sures, but they cannot be counted
on to solve the childhood obesity
epidemic. In order to get children
to live healthier, they must first
be taught to do so. Banning soda
in schools may temporarily pre-
vent children from drinking it, but
unless they know why the soda
was banned, their behavior won't
change. They'll just drink it out-

side of school instead.
Nutrition education programs,
spanning from preschool to high
school, should be worked into
school curriculums if real change
in children's eating and exer-
cise habits is to be made. Ninety
New York preschools took part
in "Healthy Kids Day," which
exposed children to fun activities
promoting exercise and healthy
eating. It's important to reach kids
at such a young age because that's
when they develop their habits. If
kids can develop healthy lifestyles
early, they will be more likely to
adhere to them, especially if these
behaviors are reinforced each year
in school.
With a little tweaking, an old
adage still holds true. Give a kid a
healthy meal and he'll eat healthy
for a day, teach a kidto eat a healthy
meal and he'll eat healthy for a life-
time.
Rachel Wagner can be reached
at rachwag@umich.edu.

DEVADATTA GANDHI
Flawed sex laws down South

When I was told at my
internship last summer
at the Southern Center
for Human Rights in Atlanta that I
would be working on a class-action
lawsuit on behalf of Georgia sex
offenders,
I cringed Understand-
inwardly.
Was this able goals,
really the but terrible
right side to
be on? The
term "sex
offenders" brought to mind sick
criminals, not victims in need of
litigation assistance.
Having been forced to con-
front my own prejudice and actu-
ally learn about sex offender laws
nationwide, I now believe Geor-
gia and other states have enacted
deeply flawed residency restric-
tions for convicted sex offenders.
Following the 1996 federal
"Megan's Law" requiring states to
release information about convict-
ed sex offenders, several states cre-
ated publicly available sex offender
registries. However, the tightening

of the noose around sex offenders
- after they have served their pris-
on sentences - goes beyond the
arguably important safety issue of
making sex offender information
public. In recent years, many states
have also created residency restric-
tions for sex offenders. According
to research by the National Center
for Missing and Exploited Chil-
dren, as of summer 2006, 17 states
had imposed residency require-
ments for sex offenders.
On April 24, 2006, Georgia
Gov. Sonny Perdue approved a
sweeping new sex offender law.
It states, "No individual required
to register ... shall reside or loiter
within 1,000 feet of any child care
facility, church, school or area
where minors congregate." Theses
areas "where minors congregate"
include all parks, recreation facili-
ties, playgrounds, skating rinks,
neighborhood centers, gymnasi-
ums, school bus stops and public
swimming pools. The penalty for
knowingly violating the act is a
mandatory prison sentence of 10to
30 years.

On the face of it, this law sounds
reasonable. After all, who wants
sexual predators near children?
The problem is that Georgia's law
applies to the more than 11,000
people on the registry without
exception. This includes people
like Wendy Whitaker, who is on
the registry because at age 17 she
had a single consensual act of
oral sex with a 15-year-old male.
Because of this one act, commit-
ted 10 years ago, Whitaker and her
husband are now being forced out
of their home.
The same is true for many others
on the registry. Joseph Linaweaver
was 16 when he had a single con-
sensual act of oral sex with his 14-
year-old girlfriend. He faces losing
his home and job. Janet Allison
was convicted of being a "party to
the crime of child molestation and
statutory rape" because she did
not do enough to prevent her 15-
year-old daughter from becoming
sexually active. Now, she faces the
same consequences as Whitaker
and Linaweaver.
On June 20, 2006, the Southern

Center and the Georgia chapter
of the American Civil Liberties
Union filed a class-action lawsuit
challenging the residency restric-
tions in Georgia's law. The case
is still in court. Currently no one
on the registry may work within
1,000 feet of a school, church or
daycare center. Many people on
the registry have been arrested for
living in prohibited locations. The
court has yet to make a ruling on
the church provision, and several
individuals have been told they
must move and/or quit their jobs
because they either live or work
within 1,000 feet of a church.
As law professor Wayne Logan
explains in a recent article in the
Iowa Law Review, research sug-
gests that exclusion neither deters
nor prevents repeat offenses, given
that individuals bent on commit-
ting sex crimes simply travel out-
side their prescribed residences.
Furthermore, he points out, the
overwhelming majority of persons
committing acts of sexual abuse
against children are not anony-
mous strangers but individuals

known to their victims.
Exclusion also impedes famil-
ial and social networks that may
reduce recidivism and discourages
individuals from reporting their
locations. In Iowa, police and pros-
ecutors have united in opposition
to the state's residency restriction
law, saying that it drives offenders
underground and that there is "no
demonstrated protective effect,"
accordingto astatementbythe Iowa
County Attorneys Association.
While litigation continues, we
can hope that the Georgia legisla-
ture is more open to reason. If it
is not, we will need independent
judges not afraid to lose political
capital in striking down the law.
Dispassionate media coverage of
sex offenders will also help expose
the public to a realistic picture of
the complexities behind "convict-
ed sex offender" classifications.
Georgia's law reflects under-
standable goals, but is a terrible
policy.
Devadatta Gandhi can be
reached at debu@umich.edu.

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