Sen. Tom Harkin Introduces School Lunch Regulation Bill To Address Childhood Obesity
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on Tuesday introduced a bill that would grant the U.S. Department of Agriculture greater authority to regulate public school lunch programs and what schools choose to put in vending machines on campus, the Washington Times reports. Harkin said at a press conference on Tuesday that "student access to junk food is pervasive" in U.S. public schools. Under his bill, USDA, which already oversees school lunch programs, would have discretion over how to enforce nutritional standards in school lunches and snacks offered in vending machines. In an effort to offset potential financial losses from losing contracts with purveyors of snack foods that stock vending machines, the bill also would give cash grants to schools that provide healthier choices in school food sales and that establish more nutrition courses. Marshall Manson, a spokesperson for the Center for Individual Freedom, said, "Sen. Harkin and his co-sponsors have hopped on the 'we know what's best for your children' bandwagon again." He added that the measure would eliminate school vending-machine contracts, which some schools use to help pay for extracurricular activities and other expenses, while failing to teach children about personal responsibility (Higgins, Washington Times, 5/12). The Chicago Sun-Times reports that school districts nationwide are enacting or considering bans on junk food in vending machines (Rausa Fuller, Chicago Sun-Times, 5/12). For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District in January eliminated the sale of soft drinks in all schools, and in July, additional restrictions will go into effect on the sale of high-fat, high-sugar foods in vending machines, school stores and a la carte cafeteria lines (Hellmich, USA Today, 5/12). Later this month, the Chicago Board of Education will vote on a proposal to ban candy and chewing gum and set restrictions on the sugar and fat content of vending machine snacks in Chicago public schools (Chicago Sun-Times, 5/12).
In related news, two new surveys released on Tuesday examined junk food sold in school vending machines. Summaries are provided below.
- A survey by the Center for Science in the Public Interest examined the contents of 1,420 vending machines at 251 schools in 24 states (USA Today, 5/12). The study found that candy, chips and "sweet baked goods" accounted for 80% of available snacks and sugary sodas, juice drinks and sports drinks made up 70% of beverages (Chicago Sun-Times, 5/12). Margo Wootan, CSPI director of nutrition policy and lead author, said that while 25 states have introduced legislation curbing or banning junk food and soda sales in schools, national standards set by USDA would be better suited to control increasing U.S. childhood obesity rates (Washington Times, 5/12). The CSPI study is available online. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the report.
- The national Gallup Youth Survey, which interviewed 785 respondents ages 13 to 17, found that 23% said they eat "a great deal" of junk food each week, while 61% said they eat some junk food each week. In addition, 67% of teens said they purchase junk food or soda from vending machines at school, and 75% of teens who consider themselves overweight said they buy junk food or soda at school (USA Today, 5/12).