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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 19, 2002 - Issue 72


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Coke Isn't for Health Conscious Tribal School

by Terry Anderson =Green Bay Press-Gazette
Coca-Cola signNEOPIT, ID - If you're thirsty at the Menominee Tribal School, you have plenty of choices — juices, water and milk. But don't bother looking for a soda.

In a calculated plan to improve health and combat diabetes, the school has gotten rid of all of its pop machines.

According to the National Institutes of Health, about one in eight American Indians has diabetes, twice the rate of Caucasians. And the diabetes rate is even higher among some tribes. Tribal health officials estimate that nearly half of all Menominees over the age of 50 have diabetes.

It is suspected that the prevalence of diabetes is partly due to a genetic predisposition and also because of a poor diet that is high in sugar and fat.

"We went from one of the healthiest diets to a very unhealthy diet," said Jerry Allard, dean of students for the K-8 school in Neopit, which is operated by the Menominee Tribe and funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. "So we had to do something."

So at the start of the school year they told the local pop distributors to remove the soda machines and replace them with juice and water.

When it didn't happen fast enough to suit administrator Donna Powless, she had the soda machines taken outside the building.

The decision wasn't easy economically, Powless said. The soda machines annually generated around $12,000 for the private school. Just how much money the school will get from fruit juice and water sales isn't certain.

But at the end of the school day earlier this week, several of the water selections flashed an encouraging, red message: "Empty."

It's not just soda that's been banished. There is no candy, and bake sales have been eliminated. And the school menu now regularly features a salad bar.

"This is one of the first schools that I've heard of that's eliminated soda and candy," said Joe Donovan, communications officer for the state Department of Public Instruction. "But generally speaking, schools are becoming more and more concerned that students are receiving proper nutrition."

Donovan said Kewaunee, Howard-Suamico, Pulaski and Oconto are some of the area school districts that have received federal grants to develop healthy eating programs for their students.

"It was a very big decision. I couldn't believe how big a decision it was, especially among our teachers because they grab a soda here and there," Powless said. "But when I made the decision, there's something that happened that convinced me we were doing the right thing. I went to the Wal-Mart in Shawano and I was telling the clerk — a non-Indian — and she told me that her daughter died from childhood diabetes."

Neopit, WI MAP
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