Merced teens face fast food temptations for lunch

Taco Bell is more than full. Teenagers crowd into tiny booths like the clown car at a circus.

Down the street, a long line snakes through McDonald's as dozens, if not hundreds, of $1 food items pile onto trays and into sacks.

It's lunchtime at Merced High School, and the students have filed out to their choice eating establishments.

On one block of Olive Avenue, they have access to El Pollo Loco, Jack In The Box, Burger King, IHOP, Quiznos, Long John Silver's, Carl's Jr., Kentucky Fried Chicken and still others within walking distance of the 2,600-student campus.

Only upperclassmen get off-campus lunch privileges, but even among the students who stay on campus, healthy choices aren't the most popular. Last year, the high school district listed the most common purchases: assorted cereals, ranch dressing, chicken patties, sliced jalapenos, pickle chips, baked potato chips, cheese sauce, cream cheese and potato puffs.

The rate of obesity in the Central Valley is alarming at all age groups, but the number of overweight children is especially shocking.

And unlike Russian babushka dolls, which get smaller one inside the other, if a boy's body shape is too heavy, it's probable he'll be shaped that way as a grownup -- only bigger.

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