Seanna Adcox, AP
A bill barring honey buns, pizza and chocolate bars from being sold to students during the school day has received tentative approval, but opponents are already lining up. The legislation, approved by a South Carolina Senate Education panel, is aimed at curbing childhood obesity in a state where one in three teens are overweight or obese, and waistlines are continuing to grow.
Rep. Bakari Sellers said giving students only healthy options when they're in schools will save lives, reduce health care costs and hopefully lead to a lifetime of healthier habits. The bill bans school-hour sales of high-fat, high-sugar foods and beverages. South Carolina already limits vending sales in elementary schools.
But school groups vowed to fight the bill, and one subcommittee member, GOP Sen. Larry Grooms of Bonneau, said he'll fight it no matter, saying the state has no business micromanaging what students can buy. The House passed the bill last year after exempting principal-approved fundraisers, making the idea palatable to school boards and administrators.
Sellers said he's OK with, for example, students selling cookies for Haiti earthquake victims, or PTAs having the occasional brownie fundraiser, but senators argued the exemption created a loophole for unabated sales of pizza, fried chicken sandwiches and doughnuts, making the whole effort moot.
Scott Price, with the state School Boards Association said school officials want leeway to raise money as they see fit, especially as they struggle to deal with continued state budget cuts. “Nobody likes the fact that we have obese children,” he said. “But who knows better how to run a school than a principal?” The bill also exceeds U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for school lunch programs.
The USDA stipulates school meals, on an average weekly basis, must get no more than 30 percent of calories from fat. So schools could stay under the limit by pairing a slab of pizza with fruits and vegetables. The bill would put a per-item limit of 35 percent of calories from fat, and 10 percent from saturated fat, requiring that pizza slab to be healthier, and making French fries a complete no-no.
Not everyone wanted to decrease the grease students consume.
The co-owner of a company that collects schools' waste cooking oil to make biofuel argued the only way cafeterias can quickly feed lots of students is by frying foods, and that buying ovens would be expensive. “I'm opposed to it because it's removing fried foods from the cafeteria,” said Joe Renwick of Midlands Biofuels, bringing a chuckle from senators.
Most states restrict what's sold in vending machines or by vendors that compete with the school lunch program. South Carolina would join at least six other states that require school meals to be healthier than USDA guidelines, according to the School Nutrition Association.