INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Students at Indiana schools have a wider range of healthy snacks to choose from in vending machines and snack bars since lawmakers endorsed guidelines to cut the amount of junk food available to young people with the aim of reducing obesity in the state.
The 2006 law requires that at least half of the food in school vending machines be healthy choice options and bans elementary school students from accessing vending machines during the school day.
A WISH-TV survey of schools in central Indiana released Monday (http://bit.ly/AkGYCA ) found that some students still have easy access to fattening sweets and salty snacks in school, but many establishments focus on promoting healthier eating.
Nora Elementary School in Indianapolis' Lawrence Township won a federal grant to test a program offering fruit and vegetables to students. Principal Suzanne Zybert said students have no access to vending machines on school grounds.
Each morning and afternoon, cafeteria staff cart around red snack coolers, featuring the NFL's "Play 60" logo. Each is filled with the day's selection of fruit and vegetables, from dried apricots to plums and celery sticks.
Zybert said the goal of the program is to show students that healthy options can be tasty too.
"We're just giving them a healthy alternative, and the kids are really responding," Zybert told WISH-TV. "We teach the kids what to eat, how to eat and when to eat."
In some schools, vending machines offer healthy fare such as dried apple slices, animal crackers, fruit snacks, baked chips and low fat pretzels. Others dispense low-fat milk, juice and low calorie options.
The changes mandated six years ago were designed, in part, to lower Indiana's obesity rate, which has instead shot up at an alarming rate.
A recent study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that Indiana's obesity rate stood at 18.3 percent in 1995, but had risen to 29.3 percent last year. That's the 15th highest rate in the country.
Sheri Shipp, the assistant director of food services at Franklin Township schools in Indianapolis, said the changes at Indiana's schools are reason for optimism about school nutrition in the years ahead.
"I think it really is our job in schools to continue to offer (healthy options), no matter how many they choose," she said. "So, hopefully, it catches on in the end."
Shipp said that items in the district's vending machines must meet not more than 30 percent of calories from fat, not more than 10 percent of calories from trans-fats or saturated fats, and they can be no more than 35 percent weight of added sugars.
Under Indiana's 2006 law, "healthy choice" items are limited by portion size if the food contains more than 210 calories. Beverages cannot exceed 20 ounces and soft drinks, punch, iced tea and coffee cannot be served.
In addition, all drinks must be caffeine free and cannot contain caloric sweeteners, while fruit and vegetable juices must contain at least 50 percent real juice.
The mandates don't apply to school lunches or to snacks sold after school hours.
And Washington is applying new pressure for more change. Late last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it will implement new nutrition standards on all food sold in schools.
The changes, backed by the Obama administration, are set to take effect gradually over the next three years.
Information from: WISH-TV, http://www.wishtv.com/