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Senate signs on to limit soft drink sales on campus
High schools left out of obesity crackdown

Kim Severson, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, August 29, 2003

California will have the nation's most restrictive rules governing soda sales in schools if the governor approves a bill passed by the state legislature on Thursday.

In an effort to address a fast-growing childhood obesity epidemic, the state Senate voted to ban soda and sugary drinks in elementary school and limit their sale in junior high schools starting next summer. The assembly had approved the bill earlier this month.

Although a spokesperson in Gov. Gray Davis' office said he had no position, backers of the bill -- sponsored by state Sen. Debra Ortiz, D-Sacramento -- said he was expected to sign it.

Limiting soda on campus is the latest in a series of efforts to make classroom offerings healthier. Oakland, Berkeley and Los Angeles school districts have already limited soda sales.

The San Francisco Unified School District took things a step further this year and instituted a nutrition policy that requires healthier cafeteria and snack bar foods and, by early next year, will rid vending machines of candy bars.

Also on Thursday, state Superintendent of Schools Jack O'Connell was at San Francisco's Aptos Elementary School to challenge every school administrator to increase nutrition education and physical education, and offer healthier food. The superintendent and state legislature will recognize schools that meet the challenge, and the most innovative districts will get $2,000 apiece as part of a grant from a New Hampshire-based dairy company.

The statewide efforts are aimed at slimming down California's children, an estimated 30 percent of whom are overweight or at risk of being overweight. In addition, three out of every four students is unfit, and in some districts almost half the children are too fat, according to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

"This is going to be a long-term process whereby parents and school and communities all need to come together to provide a healthy environment for children. As we're starting to say around here, our children learn not only by what we tell them but by what we sell them," said Harold Goldstein, executive director of the nonprofit center.

The ban approved Thursday by the Senate limits elementary schools to serving milk, water, and juice drinks that are at least half fruit juice with no added sweeteners.

Junior highs and middle school administrators can also offer sports drinks during school hours. They also can turn on soda vending machines after school for fund-raising efforts or sell soda at events before or after school.

The bill won't prevent students from bringing sodas from home. It also doesn't affect high schools.

Michael Butler, who works on legislation for the California State PTA, said the bill wouldn't have passed if it banned soda at all levels.

"The high schools get a lot of revenue from vending machines, and I think there's a sense on the part of some lawmakers that high school-age kids ought to have some choice in the matter," he said.

If the governor signs the bill this fall, the new law will take effect July 1, 2004.

Ortiz says the soda ban is just one piece of the larger battle against obesity.

"Now we have to figure out how we improve the quality of physical education and empower communities and help parents to alter home habits," she said. "That's the next step in this huge epidemic."

E-mail Kim Severson at kseverson@sfchronicle.com.

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12/29/2002 - HEALTH / Weight Control / Epidemic of child obesity puzzles experts.

08/28/2002 - L.A. schools to stop soda sales.

05/12/2002 - Growing up too fat.

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