April 30, 2009

Bill to expel junk food from schools

Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, have introduced legislation requiring nutrition standards for food sold in school vending machines.

In all but a handful of cities and states, junk food is still out of control in schools, Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement.

The federal government spends billions on the school lunch program, but that investment is undercut by the sale of soda and other junk foods. Parents want to know the money they send their son or daughter to school with will be spent on healthy foods, not disease-promoting junk.

Current law only prohibits the sale of foods of minimal nutritional value in the cafeteria during meal times, but the standards, created in 1979, were drafted with an eye toward ensuring that school foods had a modicum of certain nutrients, such as protein and calcium.

As a consequence, school's can't sell calorie-free seltzer water, but pizza, doughnuts and cheeseburgers can be sold without limits on calories, saturated or trans fat, or sodium. And because the nutrition standards only apply in the cafeteria, most vending machines can sell virtually anything.

Two-thirds of states still rely on the outdated national standards, Wootan said.