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California says 'no' to junk-food sales in schools

A statewide ban against certain vending machine snacks in public schools would be the first of its kind.

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California is poised to ban sales of soda and fast foods on public school campuses - including high schools - in a move being closely watched by many other states that are weighing whether to do likewise.

In a bill that public health authorities call "the most impressive gains in school nutrition since school lunch was introduced after World War II," the state Assembly and Senate have approved legislation they feel will help reduce childhood obesity by eliminating access to certain drinks and snacks sold in vending machines and school stores.

The legislative action, which has the support of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been characterized by supporters as an appropriate regulation to curb an obesity crisis and derided by critics as misguided government intervention.

But it appears the law, the first of its kind nationwide, will easily pass when small differences between Assembly and Senate versions of two separate bills are expected to be ironed out Tuesday.

"Elected officials are supporting parents in protecting their children from the unrestrained marketing and ever-present availability of soda and junk food," says Dr. Harold Goldstein, director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. "California [schools] can no longer be soda and junk-food superstores."

On the other hand, beveragemakers, as well as some civil libertarians say the moves are well-motivated but interject themselves inappropriately between younger children and their parents. The decision to ban junk food, they feel, should be an individual school's choice.

"While well-intentioned, the [passage] is unfortunate," says the American Beverage Association, the trade association that represents more than 211,000 people who produce US sales of nonalcoholic beverages in excess of $88 billion per year. The soda legislation, it says, "is an ineffective means of addressing obesity, a complex problem with many causes including lack of exercise, consuming excessive calories, lifestyle, genetics, and other factors."

Other critics of the law say that one-size-fits-all solutions could undermine a school's ability to fundraise and support programs needed to combat the epidemic from another angle, such as athletics.

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