the junk food police at work! another set of government nannies to micro-manage our lives

Listing junk food hard job Educators faced array of pressure

Anne Ryman The Arizona Republic Feb. 1, 2006 12:00 AM

Once the state passed a law banning junk food last year, the rest seemed simple.

But coming up with the final list of what is banned turned out to be more complicated because of the high emotions that surround food and the thousands of dollars generated by school snacks.

Before issuing its rules Tuesday, the state Department of Education even turned to Attorney General Terry Goddard for an opinion on one item: diet soft drinks. There was disagreement among staff and an advisory panel over whether to allow it in middle schools. Goddard determined that because the junk-food law required the state to meet or exceed federal nutrition standards, no carbonated beverages were permitted.

Now, by July, elementary and middle schools must convert their snack bars and vending machines to serve healthful snacks and drinks. In general, that means fried potato chips, high-fat pastries and soft drinks are out.

A fierce battle went on behind the scenes in recent months to keep certain foods in schools. State Schools Chief Tom Horne received hundreds of letters and e-mails from parents, students and food and beverage companies.

The Education Department spent months finalizing the nutrition guidelines and relied heavily on an eight-member committee that includes a parent, a school nutrition director and representatives from the food and beverage industry.

Not all the interests got their way.

Arizona Beverage Association President John Kalil said he was surprised and disappointed to see that diet soft drinks weren't included for middle schools. Diet soft drinks are a way to get kids to drink more without consuming more calories.

"We do live in a desert," he said. "We do drink more than water."

Beverage companies fared slightly better where sports drinks are concerned. State officials first recommended that sports drinks such as Gatorade be banned but agreed to allow them in middle schools.

Dairy farmers worried that they would be limited to selling only 1 percent milk in schools, which they feared would cause kids to drink less milk and cut into sales. State officials agreed to allow 2 percent milk but encouraged 1 percent and no-fat.

Officials wanted to ban all pastries but relented after company officials pointed out there were lower-fat versions of the popular snacks.

Baked goods such as muffins and doughnuts can still be sold but are limited to 3 ounces and must meet the new calorie, fat and sugar guidelines. Snack sizes are limited to 300 calories and cannot have more than 35 percent of their calories from fat.

For instance, Oreo Sandwich Cookies would be prohibited because they contain too much sugar. But a 2-ounce package of Famous Amos Oatmeal Raisin Cookies would fall within the limits.

The nutrition guidelines drew mixed reactions from parents.

Maria Elena Ruiz, who lives in Carefree and has two children in middle school, said the limits don't go far enough.

"It's ridiculous," she said about pastries and doughnuts in schools. "Those are loaded with sugar and fat."

Ruiz said it's important for schools to sell healthful foods because students spend the majority of their day there.

Trina Weiner of Scottsdale said she is happy to see the changes, especially the limits on fried food and soft drinks.

"They can get through the six hours they are in school without pop," she said.

Weiner, who has twin daughters who are freshmen at Desert Mountain High School, is glad the state relented and will allow sports drinks in the middle schools because many students stay after school for sports. She hopes the state goes further and passes legislation to cover high schools.

Horne, the state schools chief, said the goal behind the changes is to support parents.

"Some parents don't mind their children eating junk, and if the child brings a candy bar from home, nobody is going to take it away from them," Horne said. "But most parents want their children to eat healthy and resent it when the schools undermine that with candy and soda at the vending machine."

The state likely hasn't heard the last of the junk-food controversy. A separate bill introduced earlier this year, House Bill 2557, would extend the ban to high schools. Horne is supporting that legislation, as well.

Reach the reporter at (602) 444-8072.

School nutrition standards

The Arizona Department of Education released its list of nutrition standards effective in July for elementary and middle schools. Snacks must meet limits for sugar, fat, calories and sodium. Sugar is no more than 35 percent by weight. Fat is limited to 35 percent of calories (10 percent for trans- and saturated fats). Snacks can't have more than 300 calories or more than 600 milligrams of sodium.

Potato chips and crackers: Cannot be deep-fried and are limited to 1.5 ounces.

French fries: Cannot be fried as the final method of preparing.

Muffins, sweet rolls, doughnuts and pastries: Must meet nutrition guidelines above and portions limited to 3 ounces.

Cookies, brownies: Must meet nutrition guidelines and limited to 2 ounces.

Nuts and seeds: Exempt from fat requirements; limited to 2 ounces.

Milk: 2 percent or less. Flavored milk cannot have more than 4 grams of sugar per ounce. Whole milk is prohibited.

Juice: Must be 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice for elementary students and at least 50 percent for middle schools.

Carbonated beverages: Prohibited.

Sports drinks: Prohibited for elementary students; allowed for middle school students and limited to 12 ounces.

Cheese: Limited to 2 ounces.

Beef jerky: Most beef jerky has a lot of sodium, but it would be allowed if it met sodium requirements listed above.

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