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Article of Interest - Nutrition in Schools

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Bridges4Kids LogoJunk Food Ban Sought for Schools
by Anne Ryman, The Arizona Republic, August 24, 2003
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The Arizona State Board of Education may ask school districts to voluntarily ban unhealthful food in an effort to combat childhood obesity.

The board will discuss a proposal Monday that would prohibit schools from selling soda, gum and certain candies at school and school-sponsored events.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said he favors the voluntary changes.

"I'm a health nut," Horne said. "I don't think the kids should be given high fat or high sugar or refined carbohydrates in the food they get in school."

Horne said the board will discuss the changes Monday and may vote as early as Sept. 23.

States such as California and Colorado have restricted snack sales in schools.

The possible change could mean a lot less money for school districts.

Arizona school districts make millions of dollars every year selling junk food to boost their bottom lines. Kids in almost every district can buy treats to go with their lunches, ranging from chocolate-chip cookies to potato chips and ice cream to french fries. Many schools sell junk food in vending machines as fund-raisers. Large school districts like Mesa and Scottsdale ring up more than $2 million in snack sales each year.

Food-service managers have said snack sales are necessary because most school food-service operations are self-supporting and snack sales help keep them in the black.

A 2001 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture warns that snacks compete with lunch and may contribute to unhealthful eating.

The movement toward healthier food comes at a time when there is rising concern about children's eating habits and an epidemic of childhood obesity. Only 2 percent of school-age children get the recommended servings from the five food groups each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And 13 percent of children ages 6 to 11 are overweight, double the rate 20 years ago, according to a 2001 U.S. surgeon general's report.

"I would support offering healthy alternatives," said parent Denise Selvey of Phoenix, who has three children ages 12, 14 and 17.

Selvey said any policy should be voluntary because of the possible financial impact on schools.

To ease the financial burden, the state Department of Education's proposal is voluntary. Officials want to select eight schools to pilot the healthier snacks for a year and study the impact.

Horne said he would like see parts of the nutrition proposal made mandatory at some point.

"Elementary school vending machines should have orange juice and milk," Horne said, "and not soda and candy."

A few Arizona school districts have chosen to limit food sales.

Tempe Elementary District won't sell snacks to students in kindergarten through fifth grades. Paradise Valley Unified School District, where Horne served as a School Board member before becoming state superintendent, serves no foods that have sugar or lard as the first ingredient. 

   

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