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Schools Across U.S. Target Vending Machines in Obesity Controversy

States target school vending machines in battle against childhood obesity

By Alicia Chang
ASSOCIATED PRESS

2:11 p.m. February 26, 2004

ALBANY, N.Y. ­ The school vending machine ­ a source of money for schools
and unhealthy calories for kids ­ is under heavy attack by state lawmakers
across the country.

About two dozen states are considering total bans or limits on vending
machine products. About 20 states already restrict students' access to junk
food until after lunch.

Last year, California became the first state to ban soft drink sales at
elementary and junior high schools. Proponents pushing for a similar law in
New York say the state could potentially see savings in Medicaid costs.

"As a former teacher, I think it's the responsibility of our schools and
educators to teach good habits to our children," said Assemblywoman Sandra
Galef, a Westchester County, N.Y., Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill.

Childhood obesity has become a major public health concern as the ranks of
overweight children in the United States tripled over the last three
decades. Obesity has been associated with diabetes, heart disease, high
blood pressure and arthritis.

Critics argue that by focusing on school vending machines, states ignore
other ways to help children lose weight like promoting a balanced diet and
increasing physical education and nutrition classes in schools.

New York already prohibits the sale of candy and soda from school vending
machines until the last lunch period. Galef's proposal goes a step farther
with an outright ban of junk food and carbonated drinks in school vending
machines, and by encouraging schools to stock machines with healthier
alternatives like granola bars, fresh fruit, bottled water and milk.

The New York State School Board Association cautioned that more research is
needed to determine the fiscal impact of the proposed law on school
districts, which heavily rely on vending machine sales to pay for computers,
sports programs and after-school activities.

Annual income from contracts between schools and vendors varies, with some
schools raising as much as $100,000 a year, according to the National
Conference of State Legislatures' Health Policy Tracking Service.

Hawaii wants to banish vending machines from public schools unless vendors
replace fatty food with healthy choices. Massachusetts supports a ban on
soft drinks in its public and charter schools. Utah favors getting rid of
junk food in vending machines in its elementary schools.

Minnesota proposes that school districts sell milk and fruit drinks at a
lower price than non-nutritional drinks. Vermont wants districts to adopt
guidelines for nutrition in vending machines. In Indiana, where some
districts make up to $300,000 a year from vending machine contracts, there
is mixed reaction to a bill requiring that at least half the choices be
healthy.

The National Soft Drink Association says parents and local school districts,
not states, should determine what children eat and drink in school. The
trade group says soft drink companies already offer a variety of drinks to
students including bottled water, juice and sports drinks.

"We don't believe that a restrictive approach where you single out a
particular food or beverage is going to work," said association spokeswoman
Kathleen Dezio.

Besides states, cities and individual school districts are taking the
obesity issue into their own hands.

Last September, New York City banished hard candy, doughnuts and soda from
vending machines in the nation's largest school system, serving about 1
million children. School vending machines will continue to sell cookies,
potato chips and pretzels, among other snacks, along with all-juice drinks
and water. Earlier this month, the Philadelphia school district, which
serves 214,000 students, decided to halt soda sales in vending machines
effective this July.