BOSTON -- The Massachusetts Senate approved a bill in mid-March that bars the sale of "junk food" and sugary drinks in school vending machines and stores. Voting unanimously to back the measure, senators said they were motivated to act based on reports that one in three of the state's schoolchildren were overweight or obese in 2008, up from one in four just two years earlier.
The bill establishes nutritional standards for items sold in vending machines, onsite stores and snack bars during school hours. Approved items include nonfat and low-fat dairy products, non-fried fruits and vegetables, whole grains and related products. Beverages without additives or carbonation, non-sweetened water and 100% fruit juices meet the standards.
The bill encourages schools to sell fruits and vegetables from local farmers, and to train school staff to detect eating disorders.
The Senate also approved an amendment to the bill that emphasizes the importance of school physical education programs. The legislation now must be reconciled with a version of the bill previously passed by the House.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has been pushing hard to combat childhood obesity. A new public schools mandate requires schools to measure and weigh first-, fourth-, seventh- and 10th-graders to calculate their body mass index, which determines whether or not they are at a healthy weight.
Many Massachusetts school districts have set their own nutritional standards for vending machines, prompting some education groups to question the need for a state law.