Local districts eye more stringent vending policies

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Despite a decision by the state Board of Education not to bansugary soft drinks, local school officials say districts here willcontinue with a plan to supply only nutritional snacks in vendingmachines.

Last week, the state board elected to soften its position onsoft drinks and other fatty snacks in a split 5-2 vote.

A proposal before the board would have phased out all softdrinks, including diet sodas, in all public schools beginning inJanuary and allowing only bottled water, milk and 100 percent fruitjuices by June 2009. Additionally, only nutritional snacks thatinclude fruits and vegetables would have been sold in vendingmachines by the 2008-2009 school year.

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Instead, the board decided to adopt a national agreement craftedin May by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and nationalbottling companies that keeps sugared soft drinks until fall 2009and allows diet soft drinks to continue to be sold in high schoolvending machines.

The state board’s decision means beverage companies will only beallowed to sell water, unsweetened juice and low-fat and nonfatmilk to elementary and middle schools by the 2009-2010 school year.Diet sodas and sports drinks will continue to be sold in highschools.

The approved state policy did not address snacks available invending machines, such as candy bars and potato chips. The originalproposal would have phased in more nutritious snacks as well.

The Lincoln County School District had already approved asimilar policy regarding soft drinks and taken a harder stance infavor of nutrition on snack goods.

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

“We decided to remove all the regular soft drinks and have dietin their place,” he said. “We’re also going to add water, juicesand sports drinks to replace the others. That removes all thehigh-sugar drinks.”

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.

In Brookhaven, school officials were waiting on the stateboard’s decision before making a decision on a new soft drinkpolicy. But the district has taken steps to provide students withnutritional snack choices.

Brookhaven School District Superintendent Lea Barrett said thecity district is presently continuing to offer traditional candy,but began offering healthy alternatives in vending machines “manyyears ago.”

The district is presently waiting for guidelines on the adoptedsoft drink plan before making any final changes in that policy,however.

Barrett said one factor in the proposal she was glad to seedefeated was a ban on snack sales to kindergarten through sixthgrade students.

“I’m really pleased the state board reconsidered that,” shesaid. “Our students eat early in the day and it would have a longtime before they got home where they could eat again.”

The new nutrition policy was put forward in an effort to addressthe state’s rising obesity among both children and adults.

Mississippi leads the nation in obesity rates, according to theCenter for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 64.5percent of adults are considered obese or overweight. Additionally,a study by the University of Southern Mississippi found that 24percent of children in grades one through eight are overweight.