DENVER (AP) - Junk food in school cafeterias has been under attack for years. Now Colorado is considering the nation's toughest ban on unhealthy fats in school foods, a ban that could endanger pizza, French fries and other childhood favorites.
A bill pending in the state Legislature would make margarine, vegetable shortening and other traditional trans fats off limits. The ban would apply to school lunches, school breakfasts, a la carte side items and vending machines. Schools could still serve fried foods but not using traditional oils containing artery-clogging trans fats.
If approved, Colorado's ban would be the nation's most stringent. Many school districts have already moved away from trans fats in regular lunches, but the Colorado bill would also apply to breakfasts and after-school snacks served in schools.
Sponsors said high rates of childhood obesity call for extra measures to limit fats.
"Colorado is one of the healthiest states but has the one of the highest rates of childhood obesity. So if we're going to do something about that, this is a step in the right direction," said one of the bill's sponsors, House Education Chairman Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs.
Delaware currently has the nation's toughest trans fats ban in schools, but a law passed there last year does not address school breakfasts or other meals outside the school day. California bans trans fats during the school day but not beyond 30 minutes of the school day.
Six other states last year considered but did not approve school trans fats bans, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Already this year, Indiana and New York state are considering school trans fats bans similar to Colorado's, according to NCSL.
Colorado's proposal already has skeptics.
One of the state's most prominent anti-obesity groups, LiveWell Colorado, backs the bill's premise but is withholding an endorsement because of concerns schools wouldn't be ready to make the change by this fall when the bill would take effect.
The Colorado measure would be the nation's most stringent, said LiveWell's vice president of policy, Lisa Walvoord.
"You don't change this overnight," she said, adding that more people might support the Colorado effort if schools are given more time.
"I think you need to build a case and get schools prepared," Walvoord said.
Colorado's education department currently has no statewide policy on trans fats, and the Boulder Valley school district is thought to be the only that uses no artificial trans fats. A spokeswoman for the state education department, Janelle Asmus, said a department review "found the amount of trans fat in a school meal to be minimal" but added that the review didn't include items for sale in vending machines and after-school activities such as bake sales.
One mom interviewed about trans fats said school food is already healthy. Jefferson County mom Peggy Windle was accompanying her child's sixth-grade class on a field trip to the state Capitol on Tuesday.
"You can cut back on trans fats, but you can't get away from them entirely," Windle said. "You try to use olive oil at home, but you can't use that to feed 700 kids, you'd go broke."
Another sponsor of the bill, Sen. Lucia Guzman, said she wanted her proposal to start a conversation about how kids should eat in school.
"We want to make every opportunity possible for them to have healthy options," Guzman said. The Denver Democrat dismissed fear that if lawmakers ban trans fats in schools, a statewide ban for restaurants would be next.
"That's not my interest right now because people do have a choice in what they eat and what restaurants they go to. But in schools, children don't have that kind of choice," she said.
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