South Carolina students will have ample access to unhealthy foods when they aren't in school. But there is no reason for schools to offer unhealthy food to students during the school day.
A bill that would give students only healthy options to choose from, whether they are eating in the cafeteria or feeding coins into a vending machine, received initial approval by a subcommittee in the S.C. House this month. The bill would ban the sale of high-sugar, high-fat foods to students during school hours or during extracurricular activities.
A similar bill was rejected a year ago by the same House subcommittee. But some tweaking to allow sales of diet sodas helped change members' minds.
Some members originally objected to usurping the authority of local school boards to decide what to serve in cafeterias and vending machines. In fact, state Rep. Carl Gullick, R-Fort Mill, voted against the measure this time for that reason.
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But we think the bill provides reasonable guidelines for food served at school that any school district could accept. For example, the bill would put a limit of 35 percent of calories from fat per item and 10 percent from saturated fat. Sugared soft drinks would be banned.
The bill is stringent enough to exceed the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.
Significantly, the bill also would prohibit vendors from bringing high-fat, high-sugar foods into the schools and giving schools a cut of the profits. That, we think, is a devil's bargain, jeopardizing student health for money.
South Carolina would not be alone in adopting these rules. Most states already restrict what's sold in school vending machines, and many also require school lunches to be healthy.
Again, this does not mean children would be totally deprived of traditional treats. They can eat any kind of snacks or drink any kind of soft drink they want while they are off school grounds.
And, of course, schools can't regulate the lunches children bring from home.
But it is hoped that at least one of the meals students eat each weekday will be healthier. And research suggests that habits developed at school can foster better nutritional habits whenever children sit down to eat.
This, of course, is only one part of the puzzle in fighting adolescent obesity and teaching children to eat more healthily. But students should get the same message in the cafeteria that they get in health class.
With luck, they might even come to prefer properly cooked, healthy meals to a diet of junk food.