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Obesity programs: do they work?

   The nation's childhood obesity rate has nearly doubled since 1980, and obese children and teenagers today are developing diseases formerly only seen in adults, such as type 2 diabetes.

   It's a growing epidemic in which American adults are getting fatter from unhealthy diets and lack of exercise, and their young ones are waddling in their footsteps.

   To reverse the trend, increasing attention here and across the U.S. is being paid to schools.

   Schools are where children spend a large part of their waking hours and consume a large portion of their daily calories.

  In the Buffalo-Niagara region, for instance, Independent Health recently announced a school-based obesity program. Later this month, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Western New York is expected to introduce a school-based fitness program in collaboration with the Buffalo Bills. Those organizations join an existing program operated by Univera Healthcare.

   Still, it's not clear if such programs here and elsewhere across the U.S. work or are cost-effective. One of the problems with many of the programs is that there are few, if any, measurements to gauge success.

-- Henry L. Davis 

City schools make tough choices on closings

      Faced with financial uncertainties and declining enrollment, the Buffalo Public Schools are proposing that five schools be closed next year and a sixth be phased out.

   Closing schools is one of the toughest jobs a Board of Education can face. Inevitably, parents rise up in protest. Schools are deeply entrenched community anchors, and emotional connections are strong.

   But school officials say their recommendations are solid and based on extensive data. Students who must switch schools will have good and logical alternatives. The city simply has too many schools, they say, and downsizing makes both educational and economic sense.

   Public hearings will be held on the proposed school closing before the Board of Education acts in November.

   Will the current proposals hold up? How firm should the board be in backing the recommendations of their staff? And are they doing enough to cut costs as enrollment continues to decline?

  -- Peter Simon

The skinny on tanning-gate: pale tale about Palin?

  "Sarah Palin -- Fake Baked Alaska." "It's Sunny All Year Round in the Govenor's Mansion in Alaska." "Caribou Barbie -- Malibu Barbie?"

   These are some of the blog headlines triggered by the news that the Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee installed a tanning bed in the governor's mansion.

   While some bloggers and people leaving online comments have cited the tanning bed as an example of misplaced priorities for Palin, one Buffalonian is cheerfully defending her.

   Dan Humiston, founder of the Tanning Bed chain of tanning salons, is taking the opportunity to get some free publicity for his congressional campaign.

   Humiston is running against Rep. Brian M. Higgins, D-Buffalo, and he also happens to be the president of the Indoor Tanning Association.

   "Especially in northern locations like Alaska, indoor tanning can help guard against wintertime depression and ward off diseases associated with vitamin D deficiency," Humiston said in a statement from the association that was picked up across the Web this week.

   Humiston said concerns about the health effects of tanning are overblown by the "sun scare industry," though he admits overexposure to the sun or artificial sun can cause skin damage.

   Does it matter at all that Palin put a tanning bed in the governor's mansion? Should the media even be covering this issue? Does it make you less likely to vote for her?

   And do you agree with Humiston that tanning, in moderation, is a good way to get a healthy glow and avoid seasonal depression?


   -- Stephen T. Watson

Single-sex classrooms: do they make the grade

   Who would want to live in a world without members of the opposite sex?

   OK, it's not quite that dire for the youngsters at two Buffalo public schools -- Houghton Academy and Westminster Community Charter School -- where the adolescent boys and girls are being educated separately in single-sex classrooms.

   It's a growing trend elsewhere around the country and has been the cornerstone of parochial school education since forever. But otherwise the initiative has been slow to catch on locally since federal regulations in 2006 gave public schools more latitude to establish all-girls and all-boys classrooms. It's an idea that has both its proponents and its detractors, even among the young people being educated in these environments.

   Does it put a damper on raging hormones? Does it decrease distractions and force more youngsters to focus more on their studies?

Wall Street woes -- huge problem for the state

  Just a few weeks ago, Gov. David A. Paterson and the State Legislature agreed on a series of budget cuts and other measures that began to deal with the state's worsening economic position.

   But in the last few days, the situation has only worsened -- significantly. Read my story here.

   As a result, New York's projected deficit of $5.4 billion will only increase as a result of the toppling of several financial giants on Wall Street. And since the state's financial wizards estimate that 20 percent of its tax revenue stem from five ZIP codes in lower Manhattan, the decimation of firms like Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and AIG means even less revenue streaming back to Albany.

   The underlying problem in all of this is the possibility of raising taxes. Paterson has said all along he will do everything in his power to avoid that scenario, though he has not ruled it out.

   Nobody will even mention the word in an election year, but the situation is so dire -- according to the experts -- that hiking taxes in some way may have to enter the discussion. And that only stymies efforts to lower taxes, make the state attractive for business development, and end the unhealthy dependence on Wall Street.

   Maybe it will be a "millionaires' tax" in which only the wealthy are hit. Or maybe the
state will be able to avoid it altogether and cut its way back to the black.

   Either way, New Yorkers are in for tough days ahead, because New Yorkers and their dependency on Wall Street revenues get hit the hardest.

   What would you recommend to Paterson and the state's leaders?

  -- Robert J. McCarthy

The drinking age debate

   Lowering the drinking age to 18 is a real hot-button issue, and while some of the country's most prestigious colleges are starting the discussion, there hasn't been an overwhelming interest in formally jumping on that bandwagon. Read the story here.

   Only 130 … out of the 4,000 two- and four-year institutions in the U.S. -- actually signed onto the Amethyst Initiative, a formal movement calling on lawmakers to begin a serious national debate on lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18.

   Privately, though, college presidents -- whether they agree with 18 or 21 -- say they welcome the discussion.

   For years, college leaders have struggled with how to handle and enforce a legal drinking age of 21, a very unpopular law among young adults -- most of whom are probably going to drink regardless.

   In the end, it's up to lawmakers, and it will be interesting to see if anyone takes up the controversial issue and runs with it.

   If you remember, it was growing public interest in curbing drunken driving deaths, that led Ronald Regan in 1984 to sign the Uniform Drinking Age Act, mandating states to raise the drinking age to 21, or lose federal highway funds.

    -- Jay Rey

Has Sarah Palin been treated fairly?

  Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has set the presidential race on fire.  She is the talk of the campaign after her surprise selection as Republican presidential nominee John McCain's running mate.

     Lots of attention -- fueled by a few controversies -- arose quickly afterwards.  But so far, despite the great interest in Palin and questions about her readiness, campaign officials have severely limited her access to the press.  Meanwhile, they have charged that the media and Democratic nominee Barack Obama are guilty of sexism in the way they're treating her.

     I've shared my thoughts -- based in part on my own experience as a working mother -- in my Viewpoints column today.      I'd like to hear what you think.  Post a comment and join the discussion.

-- Editor Margaret Sullivan

Fan-demonium goes overboard, despite police crackdown

   Law-enforcement officials say they're working hard to crack down on the alcohol-fueled fan rowdiness at Buffalo Bills games, but there's still apparently a long way to go in ridding the stadium of unruly behavior.

   Seattle Seahawks fans blogging on the issue at complained about the abuse heaped on them, including having glass bottles and other items thrown at them and being spat on by Bills fans. One fan claimed it was the worst behavior he had seen in an opposing team's stadium.

   Local law-enforcement officers made 32 arrests inside, outside and away from the stadium Sunday. That suggests that they're serious about the crackdown, but also that there's a long way to go in resolving this problem.

   Authorities are cracking down, by listing a hotline number for fans to call, making taxicabs available for overly drunken fans leaving the stadium, cracking down on underage drinking and instituting more DWI patrols in the area.

   What do you think? Can these measures work, or can nothing be done short of cutting down on the most obvious culprit - the drinking allowed at the tailgate parties and in the stadium?

- Gene Warner

The police are ready for some football

   The Buffalo Bills and local police officials vow a continued crackdown on rowdy behavior inside and outside the stadium this season, continuing an initiative that now includes a telephone hotline for fans witnessing over-the-top behavior.

   Is this enough?

   Are the Bills making strides in this effort?

   Or, do the sale of beer inside the stadium and possession of alcohol at tailgate parties outside make it impossible to cut down on the rowdiness?

   --- Gene Warner

Hard time for a tough judge?

  Retired State Supreme Court Justice Ronald H. Tills finds himself on the other side of the bench as he waits to learn his fate.

   On Thursday, he admitted in federal court that he recruited prostitutes for events sponsored by a nationwide fraternal men's club called the Royal Order of Jesters.

   On Jan. 12, Tills, who had earned a reputation as a tough judge, will find out how much time he will serve behind bars.

   U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny said  Tills could serve  21 months or more behind bars. But that was based on sentencing guidelines that are advisory, which means Tills could be sentenced to something less, even home confinement or probation.

   His sentencing could be based on how cooperative he is in a federal probe into human trafficking and prostitution within the Jesters'.

   So how much time should Tills serve? Will he even spend time in prison? Would an ordinary citizen get the same treatment from the courts?

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