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Stricter regulations give junk food the boot this fall

Snack foods and drinks will still be available for School District 833 junior and senior high students this fall, but stricter federal regulations and district concerns about curbing child obesity mean some vending machine offerings will change.

The new rules, explored and discussed by an advisory committee, and the new wellness policy recently approved by the school board, mean vending machines at secondary schools must have 60 percent healthful foods and 40 percent less-healthful offerings.

Elementary schools do not have vending machines.

Healthful drinks include those with 100 percent juice, water and 1 and 2 percent fat milk.

No machine can be filled exclusively with food or drinks of limited nutritional value. Advertisements on the front of machines cannot promote less-healthful foods or drinks.

Placement of healthful drinks and beverages in machines must be at eye level.

Building principals will decide where machines are placed, not vendors.

"We need to take this seriously," said Food and Nutrition Services Director Barb Osthus.

Perhaps the most controversial policy change is a federal mandate that all foods and beverages served in concessions, fundraisers, and ala carte items in cafeterias and food in classrooms must meet the new federal rules.

"I don't believe we can't have cookies at a PTA meeting," said Osthus, who is charged with making sure the district complies. "But we need to offer something else as well and give people choices."

While not a mandate, schools must encourage teachers and staff members not to reward good behavior and academic performance with food but rather use non-food items such as stickers as rewards.

"I believe in eating everything in moderation," Osthus said, "but we need to discourage rewarding children with food."

Board Member Jim Gelbmann said some teachers use candy as manipulatives to teach math. "It's not the same as rewarding," he said.

"We don't see that going away," Osthus said. "We're not going into classrooms."

Federal policy also states students should have more physical activity with opportunities for exercise incorporated into "other subject lessons."

The district requires secondary students to take physical education to graduate. There are no state physical education requirements for high school students.

The statistics offered in a federal report are eye-opening if not alarming with 13 percent of school-age children obese and 15 percent overweight.

From 51 to 85 percent of children drink pop, not diet, every day.

"We believe that lack of exercise is a major contributor to obesity," Osthus said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that each 12-ounce sugared soft drink a child consumes on an average day increases the risk of obesity by 60 percent.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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