Parents support limits on junk food in school vending machines
As the number of children classified as obese continues to grow, the US government is planning possible new limits on junk food sold in school vending machines, a move most parents support according to a new poll.
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"Most people accept that soda, candy bars and other unhealthy foods just don't deserve a place in school on a regular basis," said Margo Wootan, head of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.Skip to next paragraph
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She said there are still concerns that members of Congress and industry lobbyists could water down the proposal.
The American Academy of Pediatrics' Laura Jana said new rules are imperative now that kids consume more than half of their daily calories in school. More students are getting most of their calories from snacks and drinks, not meals, she said.
"To me, it's a no-brainer.... They can't make that healthy choice when we stick all those temptations under their noses," said Jana, a pediatrician based in Omaha, Nebraska and co-author of "Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor and a Bottle of Ketchup."
Food and beverage makers have expanded their portfolios to include juice, granola bars and other healthier products. Vending machine companies focused on nutritious offerings have also sprung up.
US drink companies have already taken voluntary steps to keep sodas out of some schools and their trade group says this has cut calories consumed from beverages in schools by 88 percent.
Christopher Gindlesperger, spokesman for the American Beverage Association, said its voluntary guidelines are a good model for the government to follow.
"It's a standard that's already in place that is working. It strikes a balance," he said.
ABA's guidelines eliminate soda in elementary and middle schools but allow diet sodas and low-calorie sports drinks in high school.
Mars Inc, maker of the iconic M&M's chocolate candies, said it has already agreed to withdraw branded vending machines from schools and does not offer traditional candy in those settings. Mars said it has instead developed other, lower-calorie products.
As for schools, most now realize vending machines can help teach students about healthy habits and boost learning even though money does loom large, said Whitney Meagher, project director for the National Association of State Boards of Education.
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"If you have a choice between a cookie and an apple and the cookie is going to sell better, it's hard not to make that decision as a business decision," she said.
The Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project is a joint venture by the nonprofit policy group The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a private organization that aims to improve Americans' health.
Its poll surveyed 1,010 registered voters by telephone in mid-January and has a margin-of-error of plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points.