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 Article of Interest - Nutrition

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New York City Schools Banish Junk Food
New York City Cuts Back Fat and Sweets in School Meals.
Distributed by Parents Advocating School Accountability, San Francisco

by Abby Goodnough, New York Times, June 24, 2003
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Acknowledging that obesity is "epidemic" among New York City schoolchildren, the city's Education Department is reducing the fat content in the 800,000 meals it serves daily and is banning candy, soda and other saccharine snacks from school vending machines.

Gone may be lunchroom staples like beef ravioli, potato salad and macaroni and cheese, which the department has tried but so far failed to "reformulate" with healthier ingredients. Favorites like chicken nuggets, cheese pizza and Jamaican beef patties will remain on the menu, but in smaller portions or more pristine (read: less finger-licking) form. While federal guidelines require that only 30 percent of school-lunch calories come from fat over a five-day period, New York City intends to abide by the 30-percent rule every day.

In addition, foods defined as "minimally nutritious" by the federal Department of Education - like chewing gum, flavored ices and all candy - will be banned from the several thousand vending machines in the city's 1,200 schools.

The new standards, announced at a City Council hearing today, come out of a task force that Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein appointed in February. Martin Oestreicher, the chief executive of the Office of School Support Services, said the new standards presented "aggressive yet balanced and realistic strategies for achieving our goal to support the health and academic preparedness of our school children."


School districts nationwide have been re-evaluating the meals they serve and cutting back the amount of junk food available in cafeterias. New York's efforts to upgrade its nutrition standards will be closely watched: it is the nation's largest school system, serving more meals daily than any other government entity except the Department of Defense.

A recent study showed that according to Centers for Disease Control guidelines, almost 20 percent of third graders and 21 percent of sixth graders in New York City are obese. In poor neighborhoods like the South Bronx, East Harlem and Bushwick, Brooklyn, almost 15 percent of the population has diabetes, often caused by poor diet and lack of exercise.


Vending machines have become common, especially in high schools, because they are a lucrative revenue source for cash-strapped schools that use the money for sports and other extracurricular programs. Education officials say that by providing an alternative to traditional meals on trays, they also encourage teen-agers to stay on school grounds during the lunch hour.


But many schools contract with vending companies on their own, with no central oversight or nutritional requirements.


In New York, members of the City Council said today that the new standards did not have enough teeth and that they would pass legislation requiring even stricter guidelines. For example, the Council bill would sharply limit the amount of sodium and transfatty acids in school food.


Council members said that while a city law would make dietary rules permanent, the new guidelines that Mr. Klein is putting in effect through a chancellor's regulation could be scrapped by his successors.


"There is a history of decrees from the chancellor's office not necessarily being followed throughout the system," Councilman David Yassky, one of the bill's sponsors, said.

But Mr. Oestreicher and Dr. Roger Platt, a Health Department official who oversees school health, told members of the Council's education and health committees that the bill was unnecessary. The new rules would be impossible to violate, they said, because only one vending company will provide machines and food for them. The vending machine foods will come from a single list approved by Mr. Klein's office, they said.


For a complete archive of media coverage and background on school food issues, and for a free downloadable guide to banishing junk food from your child's school, go to www.pasasf.org.

 

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