SACRAMENTO — Worrying about “an epidemic” of sedentary, obese and unhealthy students, the Senate voted Wednesday to limit the fat and sugar content in much of the food served at California schools.
“The food we feed our children is killing them,” said one supporter of the limits, Sen. Steve Peace, D-El Cajon, who argued that fat-filled, sugar-laden food has done more harm to students than tobacco.
But Sen. Ray Haynes, R-Temecula, said lawmakers should be more concerned about limiting students’ access to condoms, abortions and pornography and that restricting school menus would merely encourage older students to eat off campus.
“I never thought we would be fast-food fascists,” he said. “This bill goes just a little bit too far. It’s a little bit too intrusive.”
“What my children choose to eat is none of your business,” added Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Northridge.
By a 22-15 vote, senators sent the Assembly a bill by Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Commerce, that would:
• Ban, from a half hour before the start of school until a half hour after school, the serving of fruit drinks that include additional sweeteners, sports drinks containing more than 25 grams of sweeteners and carbonated beverages.
• Require that no more than 35 percent of the calories in school snacks, sweets and side dishes come from fat and that no more than 10 percent of the calories in those foods come from saturated fat.
• Allow sugar to make up no more than 35 percent of a snack, sweet or side dish by weight. The restrictions wouldn’t cover nuts, seeds, fruits or vegetables.
• Limit drinks other than milk and bottled water to 12 ounces, ban the serving of jumbo-size entrees and require school snack bars and stores to offer fruits and vegetables as well as other items. Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, said the bill was a response to “an epidemic of sedentary children” who are overweight and increasingly suffering from diabetes, heart disease and other health problems.
“These are children who will burden our health care system in the next 10, 20 and 30 years,” she said.
Grocery Manufacturers of America, an association that includes food and beverage companies, condemned the bill as “a misguided attempt at addressing childhood obesity” by setting up “arcane rules.”
“A better approach would be to increase the availability of physical activity programs and give school boards the resources they need to teach children how to make wise choices about proper nutrition,” said Kristin Power, GMA’s western regional director for state affairs.