News

Junk food at schools may go on scrap heap

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

Following the lead of public schools in New York, Florida and California, proposed legislation in Washington — House Bill 2760 — seeks to end the sale of junk food in public schools and replace vending machine snacks and pop with healthier fare.

This isn’t the first time such a bill has been presented to legislators in the state, said the new one’s sponsor, Rep. Shay Schual-Berke (D-Normandy Park), but it may be the best time.

“I have previously opposed bills like this,” Schual-Berke said, explaining that schools depend on the income generated by pop and snack vending machines.

But today, she says, schools — and food providers — won’t stand to lose any money because junk food can easily be replaced with health food.

“There’s a market trend that’s growing to prevent the epidemic of obesity,” Schual-Berke said.

It all started with Jared Fogle’s (the “Subway Guy” of television commercials) innovative diet five years ago which resulted in his losing 235 pounds. It continues today with salads, chili and grilled chicken wraps appearing on fast-food menus alongside their more fattening predecessors.

“There are alternatives today that can easily be purchased by students,” Schual-Berke said. In addition, she said, many food producers already offer healthy alternatives. For example, major soft-drink manufacturers also produce bottled water, juices and sports drinks they can peddle to students instead of carbonated, saccharine pop, she said.

A licensed cardiologist and member of the House of Representatives committee on healthcare, Schual-Burke said she’s observed firsthand the epidemic of obesity in her patients.

And now, she said, “schools have an opportunity both to make money and make healthy choices and remain profitable.”

Rep. Skip Priest of Federal Way said that while he supports the idea of replacing junk food with nutritious foods at school, he doesn’t like the idea of legislators in Olympia approving and enacting such a bill without input and cooperation from school district administrators and school boards.

“I prefer to rely on the local expertize of local school management because they are the ones that are on the grounds on all the times,” said Priest (R-30th District). “I think (House Bill) 2680 provides the opportunity for that input.”

And Rep. Mark Miloscia, also of Federal Way, said that while the bill is based on sound logic and appears to have bipartisan support, he questioned the logistics of making it happen.

Miloscia (D-30th District) wondered how much money, for example, would it take to make the switch from junk food to health food.

Washington State PTA government liaison Mary Kenfield said the association “has 17 legislative priority issues for this session (of the Legislature), and providing healthy choices for children in schools is one.”

As a PTA member, Kenfield, who lives in Federal Way, said parents do worry about their children’s health, school diet and opportunities to exercise.

“Parents are concerned about the lack of physical activity and obesity and health-related problems. And they do acknowledge that the access to low nutrient foods is part of the problem here,” she said.

Federal Way Public Schools does not directly deal with pop and snack machines in secondary schools, spokeswoman Deb Stenberg said. Instead, Associated Student Body (ASB) members, guided by school staff advisors, choose the snacks and drinks that will go into the machines. The money in turn is used to fund school programs.

The 75-cent and $1 profits add up. Last year, Federal Way High School made about $40,000 from vending machine profits, Stenberg said.

The district’s high school vending machines sell a mix of traditional vending snacks such as potato chips and cookies, and healthier fare like oatmeal cookies, crackers and fruit juices, she said.

Even so, district administrators adhere to federal and state nutrition guidelines. A district policy restricts high school students’ consumption of food with “minimal nutritional value” to the last 15 minutes of the lunch period. These foods include candies, chewing gum, Popsicles and soda water, among others.

The policy also stipulates that elementary school students can’t eat food from vending machines until they finish lunch.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepieila: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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