BALTIMORE – Increasingly, Maryland school kids are having to wait until after school to get their fix of cookies, soda and potato chips.
According to a report presented Tuesday to the Maryland 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 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 the policies should be in effect for the 2006 – 2007 school year.
Each system’s nutrition policy will become an integral part of the federally mandated 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 school systems responded to the board’s progress survey, said Robin Ziegler, chief of school and community nutrition programs branch. Nine systems have written policies in place, and of those, two had local board adoption.
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 with Garrett County Public Schools nutrition services said, “We are in the process of writing our policy, but it’s still in draft form.” However, he said the extension of the junk food ban is in the draft, which will serve to meet the state and federal requirements.
Ziegler said she expects all districts will ultimately comply with the board’s suggestions, which would mean kids across the state would no longer be able to slide quarters into a machine in exchange for a Coke or sweet treat, at least not at school.
Erik Peterson, with 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 even homemade cupcakes.
During the last Maryland legislative session, Delegate Joan F. Stern, D-Montgomery, 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. She said if schools have raised their standards, she will not introduce further school nutrition legislation.
Ziegler said 16 school systems have adopted the board’s guidelines that foods sold in elementary and middle schools have no more than 9 grams of fat and no more than 15 grams of sugar. Fifteen have adopted the beverage guidelines that only water, milk and juices be sold.
More than half of the school systems have extended the fat and sugar content rules not only to elementary and middle schools but also to high schools.
Nineteen school systems have formed teams or panels to develop the wellness policy.
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 was to limit student access to vending machines.