SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is promoting legislation that would encourage healthier food and drinks in schools, including a bill that would extend a statewide ban on soft drinks from lower grades to high schools.
"This legislation is absolutely critical, not only for bringing more healthy food into our schools, but also because California is facing an obesity epidemic," the governor said at a Monday news conference.
Bob Achermann, a lobbyist for the California-Nevada Soft Drink Association, said his group would fight against expanding the soft drink ban to high schools. He argued it would not keep sodas out of teenagers' hands.
"They can bring them to school, they can get them after school," he said. "They’re high school students, they’re almost adults."
Meanwhile, in Little Rock, Ark., in an about-face on school nutrition policy, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee on Monday recommended that guidelines limiting students’ access to campus vending machines and regulating the products offered be mandatory.
Mr. Huckabee earlier sent a letter to the board recommending implementation be left to local school officials, and the state board voted last month to tentatively approve the guidelines and give districts discretion in implementing them.
Mr. Huckabee said his change of heart was based on discussions with Joe Thompson, director of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and the governor’s nominee to become the state's chief health officer, and on compelling responses that the state should more aggressively combat obesity in students. He said mandatory requirements would present the best environment to educate children about the virtues of healthier choices.
Dennis Farmer, president of the Arkansas Soft Drink Association, said members would have to review the revised proposal before commenting specifically.
But Mr. Farmer said the industry appreciated the governor’s suggestions but said vendors might have logistical problems with some elements of the program.
"We have those products, that’s part of our portfolio and we’re happy to help with getting that done," he said. "We’ve already been working closely with local school districts, both in recommending these type programs and in listening to requests that they’ve presented."
Back in Sacramento, in addition to extending the soft drink ban, Mr. Schwarzenegger also is backing a proposal to update and expand nutritional standards for food sold in school vending machines and snack bars. Under the bill, food would have to meet a 35-10-35 standard, meaning no more than 35% of its calories could come from fat, no more than 10% could come from saturated fat and no more than 35% of its weight could be sugar.
The soft drink industry already is beginning to react to the changing attitudes toward school vending, and is considering a voluntary ban on soft drinks in elementary and middle schools and restrictions in high schools. The American Beverage Association is expected to conduct a vote on the issue this week.