Schools extend junk food ban to end of day

17 of 24 districts in Maryland adopt state Board of Education's suggestion to eliminate the sale of items of `minimal nutritional value'


Increasingly, Maryland schoolchildren are having to wait until after school to get cookies, soda and potato chips.

According to a report presented this week to the state Board of Education, 17 of Maryland's 24 school districts have extended their ban on junk food sales to the entire school day.

The schools are responding to the board's nutrition policy, which was adopted in February. Schools are not permitted to sell foods of "minimal nutritional value" until the end of the last lunch period. Extending the ban to the end of the day was encouraged but not required.

The board requires all school districts to establish nutrition policies by Jan. 31 and put them into effect next school year.

Each system's nutrition policy will become an integral part of the federally required policies on health and fitness to be created by next year. The so-called wellness policies are required by the Child Nutrition and Women, Infants and Children Reauthorization Act of 2004.

All 24 Maryland school systems responded to the board's progress survey, said Robin Ziegler, chief of school and community nutrition programs branch of the state Department of Education. Nine systems have written policies, and two of those have been adopted by the school boards.

Anne Arundel, Garrett and Somerset counties did not extend the junk food ban to the end of the school day, Ziegler said. Four other counties did not respond to that question on the survey, but Ziegler did not tell the board which they were.

Scott Germain of Garrett County public schools' nutrition services said, "We are in the process of writing our policy, but it's still in draft form." The extension of the junk food ban is in the draft, which will serve to meet state and federal requirements, he said.

Ziegler said she expects all districts to comply with the board's suggestions, which would mean that students across the state would no longer be able to buy sodas or sweets at school.

Erik Peterson of the School Nutrition Association said guidelines such as those the board is advocating bring standards to foods sold or eaten on campus other than school meals, which are federally regulated. Those regulations do not extend to vending machines, a la carte options or food at class parties.

Essentially, guidelines "level the playing field," Peterson said. "Standards should apply to all food and beverages available in a school environment."

Otherwise, he said, the schools are "showing a message of inconsistency."

Banned for the entire school day in the 17 school districts are items such as carbonated soft drinks, potato chips, caramel popcorn, cotton candy and homemade cupcakes.

During the past session, Del. Joan F. Stern, a Montgomery County Democrat, introduced a bill to require nutrition policies for all schools. The bill died in the Ways and Means Committee.

Stern said her office is preparing a report card on schools' progress regarding nutrition. If schools have raised their standards, she said, she will not introduce further school nutrition legislation.

Ziegler said 16 school systems have adopted the board's guidelines calling for foods sold in elementary and middle schools to have no more than 9 grams of fat and no more than 15 grams of sugar. Fifteen have adopted the beverage guidelines, which call for the sale of no beverages other than water, milk and juices.

More than half of the school systems have extended the fat and sugar content rules to high schools, in addition to elementary and middle schools.

Nineteen school systems have formed teams or panels to develop wellness policies.

According to a survey conducted at the School Nutrition Association's annual conference, more than 65 percent of school districts nationally are working on nutrition policies.

Peterson said the most popular policy is limiting student access to vending machines.

Mari Perry writes for the Capital News Service

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