New bill on school nutrition will have minimal impact on obesity ­ officials

KINGMAN ­ An Arizona House Bill aimed at reducing obesity in children in kindergarten through the eighth grade will have little impact on overweight children, local school officials say.

"It will not have that much impact," said Maurice Flores, superintendent of the Kingman Unified School District.

"What people don't recognize is that kids are in school 13.7 percent of the entire year with 180 days and 6.5 hours of instruction. That means 87 percent of the year they're somewhere else not getting exercise and eating junk food. The bill will help, but in itself it is not an answer to the obesity problem we face in our nation."

House Bill 2544 is to take effect July 1, 2006. It directs public schools to abide by Arizona Nutrition Standards set forth by the state Department of Education.

The standards are based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the United States Department of Agriculture's Federal Child Nutrition Program regulations.

People interested in viewing what food and beverage items will be permitted in public schools next fiscal year may read them on the Internet at www.ade.az.gov and make public comment on them until Oct. 25, 2005.

Charter schools are exempt from the legislation. However, Susan Chan, district administrator, said the Kingman Academy of Learning would abide by it.

"As school authorities, I feel we can do our part to help this generation not be so obese," Chan said. "But the main impetus for that still must come from home. If children are not encouraged to eat right and be active instead of sitting in front of the television or playing video games it does not matter what schools do.

See NUTRITION, Page 2

"The legislation must be supported at home through life-changing choices on the part of families," she said.

Arizona Nutrition Standards apply to items on public school campuses that are sold in vending machines, snack bars, cafeterias and during fund-raisers or events during the normal day. They do not apply to food and beverages served in classroom parties or outside of regular hours.

Allowable and non-allowable items are identified in the legislation. Maximum portion sizes also are specified of those items that are allowed.

Among beverages that will no longer be permitted are Gatorade and Powerade.

"In some ways, I'm not surprised," Chan said. "Look at the labels and read the sugar content, and you'll find they have almost as much as soda. They're just not carbonated."

Flores also said he was not surprised by the ban on those drinks. Some children drink 2-3 quarts of Gatorade a day, and nothing taken in that kind of excess is good for you., he said.

Granola bars have been touted as a healthy alternative to candy bars and other snacks in the past. But the new nutrition standards will ban many Nature Valley and Nutri-Grain granola products.

Chan said they also are full of sugar.

"I'm not surprised (about banning many granola items)," Flores said.

"We did this two years ago in Clark County (Nev., School District), so all the stuff we're talking about now here has been implemented in other states and is much more stringent than in Arizona."

Community sports teams use gymnasiums on KAOL campuses for after-hours events. That was the reason vending machines were placed in them, Chan said.

Her district already has taken some action regarding what is sold in those machines.

Choices are down to fruit juices and water at the intermediate school (grades 3-5), Gatorade, water and one snack machine with crackers and granola bars at the middle school (grades 6-8), Chan said.

"Obviously, we make money off products sold on our campuses," she said. "We'll try to provide even more healthy choices, recognizing it's not that much money involved anyway."

Flores said he expects the ban to have little financial impact on the KUSD.

Pupils are now spending their money on water, juices and milk.

"There may be a slight revenue loss for schools and clubs," he said.

"But we are not doing it for football games, and candy bars and Cokes can still be sold after school.

"I would hope we can go with a total ban."