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Schools taking proactive stance on snack food plan

In advance of a proposal before the state Department ofEducation, Lincoln County schools have already begun to transitionfrom soft drinks and junk food to more nutritional items in theirvending machines.

The proposal expands on a national agreement made in May bywhich beverage companies agreed to sell only water, unsweetenedjuice and low-fat and nonfat milk to elementary and middle schoolsby the 2009-2010 school year. Diet sodas and sports drinks willcontinue to be sold in high schools.

The Mississippi proposal would phase out all soft drinks,including diet sodas, in all public schools beginning in January2007 and allowing only bottled water, milk and 100 percent fruitjuices by June 2009. Additionally, only nutritional snacks thatinclude fruits and vegetables will be sold by the 2008-2009 schoolyear.

Bo Simonson, food services director for the Lincoln CountySchool District, said the county district had begun moving in thatdirection earlier this year.

“We actually started taking this on in March,” he said. “Wedecided to remove all the regular soft drinks and have diet intheir place. We’re also going to add water, juices and sportsdrinks to replace the others. That removes all the high-sugardrinks.”

In addition, traditional vending machine fare such as candy barsand fried potato chips are being replaced with granola bars, beefjerky, trail mix and baked chips, he said.

“We wanted to be proactive,” he said.

Brookhaven School District Superintendent Lea Barrett said thecity district is presently continuing to offer the traditionalcandy, but began offering healthy alternatives to the machines”many years ago.”

“We’re waiting for the guidelines to be determined so we can beprepared for the school year,” she said.

The Board of Education will decide whether to proceed with theproposal at its June meeting, Barrett said. A 30-day public commentwill then be observed before a final decision is made.

The superintendent said she prefers students have a choice insnack foods because learning to make good decisions is part ofmaturing, but she is agreeable to offering only health snacks.

“I’m fine with that, too. I don’t see this as a big issue forthe Brookhaven School District,” she said.

Both districts, however, are anxious to see how the guidelinesare determined for sporting events.

“As the proposal reads now, there are no exceptions to thehealthy options,” Barrett said.

Both administrators said until the guidelines are determinedthey will continue to offer soft drinks and “junk” food, such ashamburgers and hot dogs, at sporting events.

They said they hoped sports events and other extracurricularactivities would be excluded from the ban because of theinvolvement of adults – but also because the sale of such items arebig fundraisers for parent/school partnership organizations, suchas booster clubs.

The proposal is a move to make schools – and students – morehealth conscious in a state that leads the nation in obesity rates.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 64.5percent of adults in Mississippi are obese or overweight.