Healthy snack foods making a comeback in public schools

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    By Michael Hohmann

    Carrots instead of Snickers. Fruit juice instead of Coca Cola. Whole-wheat crackers instead of Doritos. This may be the future trend of vending machine products offered in public schools.

    The Nebo School Board members are working on a proposal to remove unhealthy snacks and drinks from school vending machines in an effort to curb the national trend of childhood obesity.

    “The message we give kids in school is really important to their life choices,” said board member Debbie Swenson.

    Childhood obesity is worse now than ever before, she said.

    School districts will make a difference by promoting healthy snacking and offering less unhealthy snacks.

    The board commissioned Bob Wadley, director of secondary education, to create a vending machine policy for the district.

    The first proposal his committee made only called for 25 percent of all vending machine products in school to be considered more healthy. The most recent proposal increased the percentage to 50 percent. Wadley said the school board will decide on adopting the proposal in their next December meeting.

    The committee adopted the specifications of a more-healthy snack or drink from California Senate Bill 19. A relatively healthy snack must contain:

    * 35 percent or less calories from fat

    * 10 percent or less total calories from saturated fat

    * 35 percent or less of sugar by weight

    The bill exempts nuts and seeds from the unhealthy list as long as they do not contain any added sweeteners. Wadley jokingly said that peanut M&M”s would not make the more-healthy list.

    Wadley said healthy drinks would include fruit juices with at least 10 percent fruit juice, milk, flavored milk, water and sports drinks with a maximum of 42 grams of added sweetener per 20-ounce serving.

    Nebo School District generates near $100,000 each year on vending machine sales, Swenson said.

    “That”s one of the biggest fears; if you take pop out of machines … you”ll loose revenue,” she said.

    Despite those fears, Swenson said there are districts around the country that have eliminated pop and offered more healthy choices without denting their revenues.

    Even though board members focused on vending machine regulations in the proposal, they will also include other means to promote health awareness in schools.

    They will require every secondary school with vending machines to have a required health course on issues related to healthy snacking.

    They also recommend schools spend $200 on a promotional campaign within the school to encourage healthy snacking.

    Finally, the district would adjust the prices of vending machine products to make healthy choices just as expensive as others.

    Nebo School District wasn”t alone in their attempt to keep vending machine products healthy. Some school districts around the country have taken more drastic measures to ensure child health.

    Mike Vaughn, spokesman for Chicago Public Schools, said their schools will completely remove soda pop from vending machines as their contract with Coca Cola expires Nov. 15.

    The district will replace the sodas with fruit juices, flavored water, sports drinks and other healthy drink choices.

    “Certainly we don”t consider it a cure-all for childhood obesity, but it is the right thing to do,” Vaughn said. “It sends the right message to our students.”

    Vaughn said the new machines probably wouldn”t be popular at first.

    “We are hoping as time goes on and students start trying out the new stuff, that they will buy it more,” he said.

    So far, no school district in Utah has completely eliminated unhealthy products from school vending machines.

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