January 16th, 2002

Oakland Schools Ban Vending Machine Food

By Kim Severson
San Francisco Chronicle

By the end of next month, an Oakland school student with a few quarters to spare won’t be able to spend them buying Mountain Dew or Snickers bars on campus.

The new food policy at the 54,000-student district includes an all-out ban on the sale of sugary drinks and candy in vending machines. The district-wide policy is the first of its kind in the state and among the strictest in the nation. It’s being heralded as a key beachhead in the battle to reclaim school cafeterias from junk food.

Even in the administrative halls of the 10,000-student Berkeley school district, where the school nutrition policy includes organic gardens, salad bars and cooking classes, Oakland’s out-and-out ban on vending machine junk food is considered revolutionary. Not only is the ban complete—unlike some school regulations which allow sales after school—it also covers caffeinated drinks and some high-sugar sports drinks.

“It is groundbreaking,” says Karen Candito, food service director for Berkeley schools. “It will be interesting to watch how they navigate that and it gets put into place. It’s one thing to say you don’t want to give kids access. Actually applying it is a whole different story.”

You don’t need to tell that to Oakland food service director Amy Lins. She figures the ban, which won hard-fought approval from the school board last month, will be put into practice by next month.

Making the new regulation work will take some time. Says Lins, “There are bigger issues than just taking the Snickers out of the machines.”

Contracts with vending companies as well as school fund-raising efforts based on candy sales need to be untangled. But the real challenge is making the district’s overall new nutrition policy work.

FROM POLICY TO PRACTICE

The idea is to provide students with healthier food and more choices. But at times, cafeteria workers find themselves with the daunting task of feeding 900 elementary students in a little over a half-hour. Under such strict time constraints, the salad bars that prove popular at Berkeley schools just aren’t practical.

There also are issues of access. Children whose parents might not yet have citizenship don’t realize they can participate in the school lunch program.  Other students simply don’t want to eat what nutritionists say is a healthy lunch. They like the flavor of fast food and are more likely to graze, with older students especially prone to satisfying themselves with a bag of french fries or some chips.

“High school students aren’t sitting down to eat a meal no matter what,” Lins says. “The whole idea of nutrition policy is to make a bigger change.  You can’t just take away everything and put out tofu and make the kids eat it.  We’re trying to have a whole new approach.”

The movement to change the food California’s school kids eat has been simmering since the mid-1990s, but pressure has increased in the last three years.

“I think it crept up on people. No one realized what sorts of foods were being served, especially at the high school level,” says Peggy Agron, a registered dietitian and program chief for Project LEAN, a state public health effort that emphasizes nutrition.

CURBING JUNK FOOD

She and others battling record rates of obesity and type-2 diabetes among California children are heartened by a state law that went into effect this month. Under it, certain junk foods like candy, chips and soda, will be banned in elementary schools. Sales will be restricted in middle schools, but high schools are virtually untouched.

A recent survey by a vending industry trade magazine showed that vending machine sales provide $750 million in extra money for school districts nationwide. And lawmakers in at least 20 states have introduced bills to restrict school sales of foods with minimal nutritional value, including soft drinks. Only California’s has passed. Oakland’s new policy is much stricter than the state law.

Advocates say the California law, sponsored by state Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier), was watered down after a strong lobbying effort from companies like Pepsi and Hershey Foods, as well as from vending companies and school officials who rely on sales for extra funds.

Even though the Oakland ban and the weaker state law are still more policy than practice, their passages were essential, advocates of better school food say.

“What has happened in California is a huge consciousness-raising effort.  Now the state legislature is totally aware of this issue,” says Sarah Samuels, a health policy researcher who recently conducted a comprehensive study of fast food in state high schools. She also served on the Oakland school district’s nutrition task force.

BETTER DIET, MORE EXERCISE

Certainly, California’s children aren’t getting healthier. The first-ever statewide nutrition and physical activity survey of California elementary school children show that most 9- to 11-year-olds are not meeting basic dietary and physical activity guidelines—behaviors contributing to a third of those children being at-risk or already overweight. The study was funded by the California Endowment, the state’s largest health foundation.

It is an epidemic advocates say can be fought in the cafeteria.

“Food in schools reached an all-time low in terms of quality, and children’s health is really becoming an issue,” says Janet Brown at the Center for Ecoliteracy, a foundation which helps fund the Berkeley school food project.  “People are just wanting to take control and at the school level, people can really make a difference.”

Comments

  1. Posted by Samer on October 5th, 2005

    Hello i wouldlike to get tips on banning Vending machines for debate i am trying to make a point and at my skool we are having a debate on to ban vending machines or keep them if u can send me an Email with tips I’d Appreciate it
    Thank You

  2. Posted by Samer on October 5th, 2005

    Hello i jus also wanted to tell u that i am in Canada 2 thank u.

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