now the government nannies want to have the sugar cops and grease police shake down high school kids and keep them from eating sugar and grease! don't these government nannies in the Legislature has any real work to do?????

Food fight hits high schools Bill would widen ban on unhealthful snacks

Karina Bland and Anne Ryman The Arizona Republic Jan. 14, 2006 12:00 AM

Michael Silvas, a 16-year-old junior, stood in front of a vending machine on Wednesday at Laveen's Cesar Chavez High School, which banned junk food in August.

The machine was out of beef jerky and offered only memories of fried potato chips and candy bars. Silvas put his dollar back into his pocket, mumbling, "There's nothing else in there I want."

More teenagers across Arizona could be saying the same thing next year if a bill introduced in the Legislature this week wins approval.

Almost a year after Arizona voted to ban junk food in elementary and middle schools, a new bill would rid high schools of sugary, high-fat or high-calorie snacks like Twinkies and Doritos. Junk-food snacks sell briskly in snack bars and vending machines, bringing in thousands of dollars to the schools.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne say it has a stronger chance of passing this session, despite opposition from the food and beverage industry.

"I don't think we should be providing food that we know is not healthy to children, whether they be elementary children or whether they be high school kids," Anderson said.

High schools were part of last year's bill but were cut out to ensure success of the ban for lower-level schools. This time, supporters think they can win for several reasons:

The idea has gained acceptance in elementary and middle schools, which are preparing for state rules to be issued this month on what food is allowed.

The ban would begin in July 2007, giving schools time to prepare. Anderson plans to amend the bill's current start date of July 2006.

Supporters can point to Phoenix Union High School District as a model test case. District officials say that despite some early grumbling, most students have adjusted to the ban, which is now in place at all the district's 11 high schools.

The schools' financial losses also have been less than expected, officials said. Chavez High, for example, routinely raised $30,000 a year from its vending machines, which was used to pay for health insurance, field trips, cleats and dentistry work for students. Victor Mena, assistant principal for athletics and student activities, said that at the start of the year, he thought Chavez would lose half of that. Now, he estimates the loss at $2,000.

Nevertheless, the bill is likely to run into headwinds as it did last year. It's not clear yet that all high schools' losses will be minimal, and food and beverage companies are lining up to oppose the legislation.

Arizona Automatic Merchandising Council, a statewide group of 60 food vendors, will oppose the bill, President Todd Elliott said.

"Come on, these are young adults," he said. "They have a lot of responsibility at this age. Basically, it's turning (schools) into the food police."

Elliott said the problem with the legislation is that it targets only food and doesn't address exercise or nutrition education.

Arizona is one of a handful of states nationwide that has passed junk-food legislation for schools, although several other states, including Illinois, are trying to do so.

Horne is charged with deciding what foods and beverages can be sold at elementary and middle schools. He will release a list of banned foods later this month. The rules will take effect in July.

He said it is time to do the same at high schools.

"That's where the most serious problem is. That's where you have the most students drinking sugared drinks and eating candy for lunch," Horne said.

The legislation, House Bill 2557, would direct the state Department of Education to draw up nutrition standards for snacks and drinks sold during the school day in snack bars and vending machines. These snacks, which are not regulated for fat and calories, compete with the school lunch, which must meet federal nutrition standards.

At Chavez High, students initially were outraged last fall when they couldn't buy Snickers bars and spicy Cheetos between classes.

The 2,900 students still can get a bag of potato chips, but now they're baked and in smaller portions. Candy has been replaced with low-fat animal crackers, granola and cereal bars.

By midyear, the grumbling had faded.

"I'd rather drink this than soda," said 18-year-old senior Naomi Valencia, pointing to a bottle of low-fat strawberry milk next to a slice of low-fat pepperoni pizza. As for the ban going statewide, she said, "The kids will be upset in the beginning, but they'll get used to it."

Daniel Fisher, a 15-year-old sophomore, pulled out his earphones to say he can't tell the difference between regular chips and baked ones. "They taste the same."

The junk-food ban at Chavez was part of a pilot program with the state Department of Education. Raj Chopra, superintendent of Phoenix Union, liked the ban for lower schools and called on his high schools to do the same by the end of this school year. Chavez was first, and the rest followed. Chopra promised to replace any lost proceeds, no matter the cost.

Horne had predicted that schools would make just as much money selling healthier food, based on a study of eight schools from an earlier pilot program in February. Chris Frank, a 14-year-old freshman at Chavez, stuffed a bag of Chex Mix into his sweatshirt pocket and said he misses the occasional bag of Skittles or Twix.

"It's not really the food that's making kids unhealthy," he said. " It's the laziness, the lack of exercise. Why don't they force kids to take PE?"

Virginia Corder, principal of Trevor Browne High in Phoenix, agrees: "There needs to be a balance of exercise and nutrition."

Silvas, the Chavez junior, said he eats better now, giving up the soda and chips he had for lunch last year and drinking a Gatorade and eating Mexican food from the cafeteria.

"We wish we had all the old stuff back," he said, "but this is healthier."

Reach the reporter at (602) 444-8072.

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