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Science Class Calls Junk-Food Experiment A Success - Despite Mishap

April 22, 1988

HARRISON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) _ Sixth graders who fed an experimental rat a steady diet of junk food and watched him deteriorate into red-eyed lethargy say they’re convinced: The road to good living isn’t paved with tasty treats.

But there was one problem with the experiment. The junk food rat, Honey, outlived his companion, Nut, who was fed only health food. Nut died while choking on a cracker as the results were announced Thursday.

″He was extremely healthy,″ a distraught Kathie Dilks assured her class at Harrison Township Elementary School. The teacher announced that they would provide Nut with a proper burial.

The experiment had been slated to last another 3 1/2 weeks, but, even with Nut’s death, the results have already convinced students like Paul Amiss, 12, to heed the good nutritional points his mom has been making for years.

″She likes me to eat healthy stuff so I can grow healthy. If you eat too much junk food, you won’t grow up,″ Paul said, adding that all the hoopla probably won’t stop him from enjoying a candy bar once in awhile.

″I usually eat them for dessert,″ he whispered out of the earshot of the adults who were busy explaining the results of the first 10 days of the five- week experiment.

The test showed that a steady diet of junk food caused a baby white rat to grow at a slower rate than a companion rat who was fed the school-lunch menu, Ms. Dilks said.

Honey, who dined on Oreo cookies, red licorice and orange marshmallows, appeared lethargic and sleepy during a news conference at the southern New Jersey school. An open can of stale soda waited nearby in case Honey grew thirsty.

″Rats cannot burp. When you feed them soda, you have to make sure it’s flat,″ said Julie McGrath, a registered dietitian with the Philadelphia-ba sed Blue Ribbon Services Inc., the food-service company that sponsored the experiment.

Honey frisked and twitched around his glass cage when not dozing.

″It’s probably a sugar high,″ Ms. Dilks said.

Honey, who weighed in at 45.5 grams, also looked a tad dingy.

″He’s a little yellow. He’s not getting enough nutrients,′ said 12-year- old Mark Plum as he escorted the red-eyed rodent around the classroom.

Nut, the rat who munched on tossed salads, bananas and pizza, weighed in at a whopping 78 grams prior to his sudden death and showed substantial tail growth.

″We want to apply this to our own eating habits,″ Ms. McGrath told 16 nodding heads who offered examples of how the test changed their lives.

Orange juice and cheese appears to be the new after-school snack for the majority of the class, except 11-year-old Nelson Irizarry.

″Nah, my mom doesn’t let me eat junk food anyway,″ he said.

Ms. McGrath said she would obtain two more rats to complete the experiment before school ends in June.