The battle over which foods and beverages should be allowed in Iowa schools continues.
The Iowa Board of Education agreed upon new nutritional guidelines at the end of April, but a legislative panel has put those rules on hold ’til next January so lawmakers can review the new standards.
The legislature approved the “Healthy Kids Act” in 2008, but the latest delay in implementing the law stems from a disagreement over which beverages should be banned in schools. Representative Dave Heaton, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, questions the Board of Education’s decision to prohibit diet sodas.
“What do you have against carbonation? To me it looks there’s a bias against bubbles,” Heaton said. “I understand the (concern about) caffeine. I understand (the concern about) sugar, but I don’t understand (the concern about) bubbles.”
Carbonated beverages would be off-limits, but the rules would allow milk, coffee, fruit and vegetable juices, sports drinks and flavored water to be sold in Iowa schools. Department of Education attorney Carol Greta says the board was just trying to follow the law the legislature passed.
“Our dilemma is you will find division among your colleagues,” Greta says. “There are those of you who want nothing more than skim milk and plain old water in vending machines.”
Senator Merlin Bartz, a Republican from Grafton, warns there’ll be a backlash if school teachers and administrators turn into the “food police.”
“You know, you’re going to have this exodus of kids walking across the street to the convenience store,” Bartz says, “or more of ’em that are just going to say, ‘I’m skipping lunch. I’m bringing my own food. We’re going to be selling Mountain Dew, black market, out of the tops of lockers.'”
Greta, the Department of Education’s legal counsel, points out the nutritional guidelines that legislators are complaining about were drafted by a task force — that was established by the legislature.
“We’re trying to start by knocking out the truly evil stuff — the sugary sodas, the candy bars, the Ho Hos, and the Twinkies,” Greta says. “Let’s start by getting rid of that stuff that has absolutely no value to kids, that we all can identify as junk food.”
The beverage industry is lobbying for federal guidelines for what foods and drinks can be sold in schools so distributors aren’t forced to adhere to a patchwork of state standards.
On another school-related issue, the legislative review panel allowed new rules regarding physical activity for students to go into effect. Starting this fall, kids in kindergarten through fifth grade must engage in physical activity at school for half an hour each day. Students in grades six through 12 must complete 120 minutes per week. It’s basically no change for elementary school students, but an additional 30 minutes a week for middle school and senior high students.
However, the older students can fulfill that activity requirement through participating in a sport, marching band or cheerleading.