Becomes Sour on Sweets in School
Policy aims to reduce student obesity.
by Jeffrey Gilbert, Houston Chronicle, August 5, 2003
For more articles like this
New rules designed to curb obesity and improve student health
prohibit school districts from providing elementary children
with soda, hard candy or gum during the school day, a state
agency announced Tuesday.
The policy, which the Texas Department of Agriculture put into
effect Friday, also bans middle school students from buying
those items during breakfast and lunch. It also means parents
can't bring sodas or lollipops to class parties and teachers
can't give out hard candy or gum as treats.
"Children are required to be in school a certain number of days
for a certain number of hours," said Susan Combs, Texas
Department of Agriculture commissioner. "The school food
environment is critically important to their well-being."
Those items banned are considered foods that do not meet the
U.S. Department of Agriculture's standard of minimal nutritional
value. Previous policy banned the sale of those foods in
cafeterias during breakfast and lunch for all grade levels.
The policy is the first major initiative the department has
implemented since it took over the Child Nutrition Program from
the Texas Education Agency last month.
"I can't see any reason why a kindergartner or a third-grader
needs a soft drink during the school day," Combs said. "But
there are beverage companies scattered throughout elementary
schools in this state, and that's no longer acceptable."
The new policy is a move in the right direction, said Mercedes
Alejandro, president of Parents for Public Schools of Houston.
"We have so much obesity in our children, and everyone has to
contribute toward fighting that problem," she said. "I believe
many parents and families need to learn more nutritious options
for their children."
In Houston, 19 percent of school-age children are seriously
overweight. Another 37 percent, or 365,000, weigh at least 20
percent more than their ideal weights, according to a 2000 study
in the Houston Independent School District.
Alejandro said the only problem with the policy is that it does
not address problems in high schools.
"I would like to see restrictions at all schools because
consumption of these products can lead to obesity at any age,"
Adriana Villarreal, a spokeswoman for the Houston Independent
School District, said the policy is the latest in a line of
local initiatives aimed to reduce the number of overweight
children in this area, she said.
"We are trying to educate parents and students that they can
make wise decisions with their eating habits," Villarreal said.
"Kids' eating habits are formed when they are young."
HISD school cafeterias will also begin serving healthier
versions of foods this year, such as pizza, tacos and spaghetti,
she said. Physical education and health teachers are educating
students on how to eat smart and stay healthy.
On Tuesday, about 300 HISD school food managers attended a
training course on how to prepare the healthier meals,
"We want to make fruits and vegetables more presentable,"
Villarreal said. "We might cut an orange in a really cool way
and put a strawberry on top so it will look as good as if it
were a tart."
Kirk Lewis, a spokesman for the Pasadena school district, said
he understands the need for the regulations.
"We hear more and more about the health problems of our children
in terms of obesity," he said. "The policy in that way makes
some sense, but it is going to be a dramatic change with our
parents and staff and the kids. It may be seen by some as a case
of overkill when it comes to a Christmas party."
Lewis said one of the key issues with the policy would be
informing the parents of the new provisions.
In the Clear Creek school district in Galveston, Catherine
Horton, director of food services, said the policy would not
affect the district because campuses already comply.
"We haven't had foods of minimum nutritional value for as long
as I can recall. We don't do gum and all that," she said.
Representatives from Fort Bend and Alief also said the new
policy should not affect their districts.
Combs said the department has other plans for addressing
nutrition in public schools. Her office has begun an
investigation of the relationships between school districts and
vending machine companies. "In some cases, schools can make
millions of dollars off of the vending machines," Combs said.
Many area districts have contracts with soft drink companies
like Coca-Cola. David Sords, spokesman for Houston-area
Coca-Cola, said the company understands Combs' concern about
obesity and offers other types of drinks, like water, fruit
juices and sports drinks, when meeting with districts.
Combs said districts in Los Angeles, New York and Wisconsin have
banned junk food altogether.
"When you have the population we have as obese as it is ... we
have to do something more," she said. "It is absolutely
essential that we do everything within our power to help our
children live healthy lives."
Chronicle reporter Ruth Rendon contributed to this story.
back to the top ~
back to Breaking News
~ back to