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Efforts by a coalition of medical, educational and community groups to get its arms around the issue of childhood obesity could reap important benefits.

The nonprofit coalition, P2 Collaborative of Western New York, is aiming high with a $450,000 project targeting 30,000 Buffalo students. The plan offers weekly rewards to the students who eat fruits and vegetables.

The planets are aligned on this project, with coalition board members representing managed care, community executives and religious leaders. The idea is to bring managed care, the university and community together to work collaboratively to address health issues vital to this area.

The plan, "Be a Power Eater: The Good Food for Great Kids Program," is a six-week program. It will begin in January and offer small rewards, such as pens, rulers or key chains, for healthy eating, and is open to grades prekindergarten through eight. The students must have had a fruit or vegetable at lunch at least one day that week.

The plan promises lifetime rewards for young people whose nutritional habits may be lacking. Poor eating habits among children and adults have become commonplace, especially among low-income families. Junk food has replaced vegetables and fruits on the plate of too many Americans. Statistics are startling. More than 30 percent of 6- to 19-year-olds in the United States are overweight; more than 15 percent are obese. Worse, researchers estimate children born today could become the first generation in U.S. history with a lower life expectancy than its predecessor.

Buffalo public schools were chosen to participate in this program because of high need. Eighty percent of city students are on a free or reduced-price lunch program.

Studies have shown a link between good nutrition and academic performance. Lifting up the most challenging district will set an example for other school districts. The P2 Collaborative should be commended for taking on a challenging district as its first step.

This is an idea whose time may have come, and not only in the United States. The Ontario government recently banned the sale of junk food from elementary-school vending machines. Schools are being urged, not forced, to rethink their pizza lunches, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail. And parents are encouraged to pack healthy fare for their children's lunches.

Statistics and research sometimes are not enough to prompt action. By introducing students to better nutritional choices, the P2 Collaborative and others are increasing the odds that children will pick up the habit of healthy eating that will last them a lifetime.