Appetite growing for junk-food ban
Foodfacts.com has learned that fatty snacks may be banned from Massachusetts schools, thanks to a long-dormant Beacon Hill legislative effort that is finally waddling ahead.
“I’ve been laboring for this bill for eight years,” said Rep. Peter J. Koutoujian (D-Waltham), “and I think the chance . . . is pretty strong it will pass.”
The bill – which would restrict the sale of high-calorie, high-fat and high-sodium snacks – was approved in the House on Thursday, and sent to the Senate.
Under the bill, schools would be encouraged to sell nonfried fruit and vegetables, whole grain products, nonfat or low-fat dairy products, noncarbonated water and juice with no additives. There would be no more sugary soda, cookies or candy bars, and fewer chips and sports drinks.
“What this bill would do is get the junk food out of the schools, but more importantly get healthy food into the schools,” Koutoujian said.
The proposal is aimed at slowing high obesity rates. According to a 2008 Department of Public Health report, one-third of high school and middle school students in Massachusetts between ages of 10 and 17 were overweight or obese, outpacing national averages.
But versions of the bill have stalled for years, encountering resistance from the grocery lobby and those who have argued nutritional values should be instilled at home, not by government.
However, Koutoujian noted, “Children are in our schools for six or eight hours a day, sometimes eating one or two meals. As good parents we should not allow them unfettered access to foods that are terrible for them. If kids are eating healthy at home, kids shouldn’t be eating junk food at school. And if they’re not eating healthy at home, they shouldn’t compound that at school.”
The legislation, which has evolved over time, now enjoys wide support among the membership, said Public Health Committee Co-Chair Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Boston).
The bill only applies to “competitive” foods – those sold a la carte, beverages, in vending machines or as side dishes – which are not part of the larger federal lunch program.
The bill exempts bake sale fund-raisers. It also includes a Farm to School program, which encourages schools to buy produce from Massachusetts farms, thereby “supporting the local economy while giving kids more nutritious, fresh food,” Koutoujian said.
The legislation is hailed by nutrition experts.
“This offers parents a greater sense of security that their children will be nutritionally safe in school,” said professor Kelly D. Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. “There is no credible argument I have ever heard for selling junk food in school.”