April 21st, 2004

Chicago Schools to Ban Soda, Candy

Reuters

The Chicago Public Schools will ban soft drinks, candy and fat-laden snacks from school vending machines, replacing them with healthier offerings, district officials said Tuesday.

Chicago, the nation’s third-largest public school district, joins other major school systems that have already expelled food or drinks seen contributing to a childhood obesity epidemic from their facilities.

“Students spend a large portion of their time at school, and we need to do more to promote healthy eating habits,” said Arne Duncan, the school system’s chief executive officer, in a statement. “This is an important step toward getting junk food out of our schools.”

The Chicago district said it is seeking proposals to replace its exclusive and expiring beverage contract with Coca-Cola .

Representatives for Atlanta-based Coke could not immediately be reached for comment. Under the existing contract, the school system made about $4 million a year or 52 percent of the sales, while Coke got the remaining 48 percent, according to Mike Vaughn, a school district spokesman,

On the snack front, products in school vending machines must have not more than 30 percent of their calories from fat and no more than 40 percent sugar by weight. Candy and chewing gum would be banned outright.

Vaughn said the new policy on snacks would taken up by the board of education in May with the aim of having the policy in place by next fall.

The district’s move comes as public awareness over the obesity crisis heightens.  Food and drink makers have also tuned into the problem, in part to defend against litigation blaming their products for making people fat. And some nutritionists have cautioned against many of the juice alternatives to soft drinks, which can be deceptively high in sugars.

McDonald’s Corp. last year the target of a well-publicized obesity lawsuit, late last week launched an anti-obesity push that includes the launch of a new healthier version of its kid-oriented Happy Meals for adults.

The largest U.S. school system in New York City has already ousted soft drinks, replacing them with juice and other products from Snapple, a unit of Cadbury Schweppes Plc . Schools in Los Angeles banned soft drinks as of January and will ban the sale of so-called junk food starting in July.

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