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Don't Bite the Hand That Feeds

By Barbara Miner

To address these concerns, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is spearheading efforts to pass the 2006 Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protec-tion Act. Introduced in early April, the bill would update 1979 standards defining "foods of minimal nutritional value" and regulate what can be sold in the cafeteria during the lunch hour. The current standard, for instance, emphasizes certain nutrients but doesn't address issues such as overly caloric foods, transfat, salt, or added sugars. Thus pizzas and Oreos can be sold, but seltzer water cannot.

Perhaps more important, the school lunch program has no control over foods served outside the cafeteria, where junk foods are proliferating most rapidly. A recent report by the Government Accounting Office found that 99 percent of high schools, 97 percent of middle schools, and 83 percent of elementary schools have vending machines, school stores, or snack bars commonly selling junk foods such as soda, candy, salty snacks, and high-fat baked goods.

The Harkin bill would extend standards to the entire school and for the entire day. "Many kids are at school for two meals a day," Harkin says. "But instead of a nutritious school breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria, they are enticed to eat Cheetos and a Snickers bar from the vending machines in the hallway. Junk food sales in schools are out of control."

Not surprisingly, the bill faces opposition from the soda and snack-food industry.

"The industry's not going to support a bill that's not showing results," Lisa Katic, a consultant to the food and beverage industry, told the Chicago Tribune. The emphasis, she said, should be on having kids get more exercise.

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