News

Junk food rules closer

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

Now that the state House and Senate have passed versions of a bill to curb the sale of junk food in schools and establish student nutrition and physical fitness guidelines, a law could be next.

A hearing on the Senate’s version of the legislation is set for next Wednesday. If the Education Committee passes the bill, the full house will hear the bill.

And if the two versions successfully wind their way through the Legislature, the bill could be signed into law as early as March 11.

“We know that insubstantial physical activity combined with too many temptations in school vending machines and student stores are a recipe for obesity,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle).

“Students face high-calorie sodas, sports drinks and snacks that offer an enticing alternative to more nutritious school breakfast and lunch programs. This legislation asks our schools to take responsibility for educating our children about making healthy food and exercise choices. Childhood obesity is an eminently preventable epidemic.”

Senate Bill 5436 calls for an advisory committee to create a model policy addressing student access to nutritious foods and to physical fitness by Jan. 1. The committee is to consist of representatives of the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA) and of the state superintendent of public instruction.

Implementing a model policy under the current Senate bill version should not cost the state any money, said Dan Steele, WSSDA director of government relations.

The bill would also require local school boards to establish their own policies by Aug. 1, 2005.

The Senate bill is very similar to House Bill 2680, which passed Feb. 14.

Kohl-Welles, who holds a doctorate in sociology from UCLA and has studied the history of American education, said schools are an agent for social change.

“I think the bill will go through, whether it’s the House bill or the Senate bill. It really doesn’t matter,” Kohl-Welles said. “Schools have always been called upon to make changes, to help affect social change. The students are there, in many cases, for more hours than they spend with their own families.

“Part of what bothers me about the apparent increase in the availability of foods that are believed to be unhealthful is that parents and students believe that schools are part of the authority structure.”

As shapers of social values and sources of authority, schools that offer unhealthy food in vending machines or in student stores imply to students that eating nutritionally devoid “junk” food is fine, Kohl-Welles said.

“It’s ironic. We hear about the importance of physical fitness and being exercise machines, yet there’s more and more seduction of foods,” Kohl-Welles said. “The variety has just been expanding exponentially.”

Sen. Tracey Eide of Federal Way (D-30th District), also a member of the Education Committee, supports the Senate bill.

“Childhood obesity is a serious health problem that urgently needs our attention,” Eide said. “Obese children are at higher risk for other health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma.”

“Part of the way to help kids is to develop a prevention strategy,” Eide said, noting SB 5436 would require each school district in Washington to adopt local policies on the availability of nutritional foods and beverages at schools, as well as physical activity and “teaching kids to make healthy choices.”

Reps. Skip Priest and Mark Miloscia, both of Federal Way, voted for the House bill.

“Nationwide, we have a growing problem with obesity among children,” said Priest (R-30th District). “There are estimates that there are currently 50 percent of our children between 6 and 19 who are obese. (HB) 2680 provides an important first step in addressing this problem in a thoughtful and professional way.”

“This is a good step here to addressing the problem of nutrition, physical education, obesity and what’s best for our children,” said Miloscia (D-30th District. “It’s a silent problem and we all have to have a hand in solving this. It is a health issue and a societal issue. Schools are increasingly involved in feeding our children.”

Miloscia said he volunteers in the Federal Way school district as a substitute teacher, and observed “kids aren’t as skinny as they used to be.”

The Washington chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics testified in support of the Senate bill.

“There’s been a change over the past 10 years (regarding) the prerequisite of needing to do physical education,” chapter president Dr. Barry Lawson said in an interview Thursday. “At least we’ll be addressing the problem of childhood obesity. It will get us all to recognize the issue and to hopefully bring about the answers.”

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

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