Panel targets soda, candy at schools

Recommendations to Juneau School Board also affect fatty foods

Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2005

Juneau-Douglas High School would disable its soda machines during the school day, and all local schools would restrict fatty and fried foods, under a recommended policy.

The policy, if approved by the Juneau School Board, could take effect two school years from now.

In light of increasing numbers of obese children, a committee of educators, parents and students wants the school district to restrict the food and beverages it offers students.

"With 33 percent of kids obese, I think we're criminals in education if we don't take it seriously," said Cynthia Shaw, a consumer science teacher at JDHS.

The policy would apply to foods and beverages offered at schools or used as part of school fundraising, but it wouldn't affect what children can bring to school.

Banned for sale during school hours would be carbonated beverages, water ices such as Popsicles unless they have fruit juice, and chewing gum and candy.

Schools also would limit the fat content of foods and the frequency such foods are served, and would limit the portions of fried foods.

The recommendations go beyond what the federal government requires of schools to be eligible for reimbursement for low-income students' free or reduced-price lunches.

The government prohibits the availability of certain items only during lunch and just before and after it, and its ban doesn't apply to all candy. Also, federal rules don't address the fat content of food.

At a sparsely attended public meeting Tuesday night, parents supported the proposed local policy, but some were concerned it would hurt fundraising.

The soda and candy machines at JDHS support after-school activities. It's also common for elementary school students to sell candy, among other items, in the community to raise money.

Vending machines at JDHS generated $34,000 for school activities last school year, the school said. The beverages include water and juices as well as sodas. The snacks are the usual mix of chips, cookies and candy bars.

This year the school offered fewer sodas and more water and juices in its machines, and has seen revenues drop. The decrease may amount to about $10,000 by the end of the school year, Principal John Norman said.

"We put more water and juice in and kept the price the same (as soda), so there's less profit," he said. "It was a good decision - make less money but try to encourage a healthy diet."

Shaw, a JDHS teacher, said other school districts have seen revenues go up when they took sodas out of vending machines.

But Sandi Wagner, the JDHS activities director, isn't convinced. Besides the evidence of this year's vending machines, she pointed out that students can buy sodas at nearby stores during lunch.

"I have big concerns that it's not going to do any good," she said of the recommended policy. "There's going to be a big exodus off campus to local stores."

There already is. Mac's Cache, the JDHS food service, feeds only about a fifth or sixth of the school's students on a given day.

The policy won't prevent students from eating elsewhere.

But it will be a "vast improvement for our kids" to stop selling sodas at school, said Rod Pocock, a choir teacher who chairs the nutrition committee.

"Actually, it probably would be pretty effective," sophomore Josh Jeffries said in the commons Wednesday. "I see people crowding over there (at the soda machines) before class starts all the time."

The policy wouldn't affect elementary schools much, said Riverbend Elementary Principal Carmen Katasse.

Grade schools and middle schools don't sell sodas or candy. The policy doesn't prohibit pizza, which some schools sell to raise money, or classroom birthday parties with cake and cookies.

Even the schools' fundraising in the community may not hinge on candy sales. Only about 5 percent of Riverbend's $11,952 in revenues from selling gift wrap and candy last year came from candy, Katasse said.

The proposed policy won't much affect Mac's Cache, said Kevin Hamrick, a business teacher who manages it and supports the recommendations.

"I think it's about time," he said.

Mac's Cache would have to stop selling soda. Other than that, it's already in compliance with the fat and fried-food recommendations, Hamrick said.

On Wednesday, Mac's Cache was selling pretzels, corn dogs, pizza, sandwiches and stir fry. It usually offers homemade soup as well. Even the cheese for the nachos was well within the fat cap.

School Board President Mary Becker said she wants to compare the federal requirements on school food with the proposed local policy. The district may want to phase in elements that aren't mandated, she said Tuesday.

Becker also said it would be important that healthy foods not cost more than what is currently offered, so that parents can afford it.

Judy Neary, a middle-school parent who works in health promotion, said nutrition is one of the health issues that the district can act on.

"I have seen the problems of nutrition over the years grow and grow, and I didn't know how we could make the first step," she said. "I view the policy as the first step."

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.



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