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Published in Print: May 10, 2006, as Connecticut Moving to Curb Soda Sales in Schools

Connecticut Moving to Curb Soda Sales in Schools

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Connecticut is on the verge of banning most sales of sodas and other sugary beverages in K-12 public schools as part of legislation that some observers say would create the strictest school nutrition policy adopted by any state.

The bill received final legislative approval April 27, and Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell has said she will sign it.

Under the measure, only water, milk, and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice would be sold in school cafeterias and from school vending machines, beginning July 1. The measure would ban regular sodas, diet sodas, and even “sports drinks” such as Gatorade or Powerade.

The ban would not, however, apply to concession stands at school-sponsored events after school or on weekends, and students would still be permitted to bring sugary drinks from home.

Nutritious Choices

Gov. M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut has said she will sign a bill that would greatly restrict the types of beverages that could be sold in K-12 schools. On the measure’s acceptable list are:

● Milk
● Nondairy milks, such as soy or rice milk
● One hundred percent fruit juice, vegetable juice, or combinations of such juices
● Beverages that contain only water and fruit or vegetable juice and have no added sugars
● Waters, including those that are flavored but contain no added sugars, sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, or caffeine.

“This legislation is best for everyone—children, parents, and local boards of education,” Gov. Rell said in a statement just hours after the bill was approved.

In a high-profile national move, meanwhile, the beverage industry announced plans last week to voluntarily pull sugary soft drinks and juices from schools and limit the amounts of other high-calorie beverages sold there. ("Stricter School Soda Limits Offered," this issue.)

Officials of the American Beverage Association were not available as of press time to discuss the Connecticut bill.

Gov. Rell, a Republican, vetoed a similar school nutrition bill in June of last year. “Unlike last year’s bill, mandates [on food items] have been removed and new incentives to provide healthier options for our schoolchildren have been put into place,” the governor said. “I will be pleased to sign this bill into law.”

The “incentives” are financial benefits—an additional 10 cents from the state per lunch sold—that schools can receive for stocking healthy options in their a la carte lines and vending machines.

“That incentive is long overdue and is key in helping us serve healthier options,” said Dana L. Plant, the president of the School Nutrition Association of Connecticut, noting that fresh produce and other healthy foods are often more expensive than their less nutritious counterparts.

The bill barely made it through the Democratic-controlled House on April 27 on a 76-71 vote, when 24 Democrats, including Speaker of the House James A. Amann, voted against it. It passed 24-8 in the Senate, which is also controlled by Democrats, the previous week.

“It’s an idea whose time has come,” Rep. Andrew M. Fleischmann, a Democrat who defended the bill, said in an interview last week. He cited research that showed that 68 percent of Connecticut residents support removing unhealthy drinks from schools.

“There’s more public awareness of poor nutrition, obesity, diseases that go along with obesity—consciousness has grown,” Rep. Fleischmann said.

‘Cutting Edge’

California previously enacted what many considered to be the toughest state rules on school nutrition. California’s law, which does not fully take effect until 2009, does not ban sports drinks, however, nor does it mandate 100 percent fruit juice, as the Connecticut plan would. ("Calif. Says ‘No’ to School Junk-Food Sales," Sept. 28, 2005)

The nutrition bill in California mandates that schools phase out the sodas sold in schools and replace them with healthier drinks over the next three years. It also puts a calorie restriction on individual food items and requires that more fresh fruits and vegetables be made available in school meals.

Both the California and Connecticut measures are considered more comprehensive than other states’ restrictions because they extend to high schools.

“Most states haven’t gotten that far,” said Erik Peterson, a spokesman for the School Nutrition Association, an Alexandria, Va.-based group that represents school food-service employees. Federal nutrition guidelines cover school lunches, but according to Mr. Peterson, there are only minimal restrictions on what can be sold a la carte or in vending machines.

“In terms of being on the cutting edge,” Mr. Peterson said of the Connecticut legislation, “they’re right up there.”

Ms. Plant, of Connecticut, added that the new policy is about consistency. “We should give a clear and consistent message in our schools,” she said. “We send our kids to health and nutrition class … and then they walk the halls and find a soda machine. It’s just not consistent.”

The Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo, Inc. lobbied heavily against the bill. “They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Rep. Fleischmann contended. “They worked ceaselessly to try to amend or kill the bill.”

Ms. Plant agreed, saying: “Politics and big-money companies did not win. The children are the real winners here.”

Spokesmen for the beverage companies could not be reached for comment as of press time late last week.

Rep. Fleischmann does not expect schools to see a sustained drop in revenue from vending machines and other snack sales at schools as a result of the bill.

“In districts in other parts of the country that have taken this step, sometimes there’s a temporary dip, but no sustained drop-off” in sales, he said. “If the only alternatives placed before [students] are healthy alternatives, they’ll choose among those.”

Vol. 25, Issue 36, Pages 20,23

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