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Seattle Schools Consider Easing 'Junk Food' Ban Amid Vending Sales Slump

Posted On: 12/29/2011

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SEATTLE -- The Seattle School Board is reexamining its healthy vending policy in high schools amid complaints from student governments that say they've lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding over the past seven years.

Seattle was regarded as one the nation's most progressive school districts when it enacted the stringent nutritional guidelines in 2004. They limit vending machine menus to items like milk, fruit juice, baked chips and granola bars. But amid student complaints, as school districts across the country and state and federal governments have adopted less restrictive nutritional policies, Seattle school board members have pledged to explore revising the ban.

Students are reportedly bypassing school vending machines for nearby convenience stores where they can buy their favorite snacks and beverages. And the trend is taking a large bite out of profits for student governments, which fund athletic programs, clubs and events. In 2001, before the "junk food" ban was passed, high-school student governments across Seattle made more than $200,000 from vending revenue. This year, they've made only $17,000.

Student government leaders say they have been forced to cut back funding for many activities and cancel others. They presented a proposal to the school board last month to amend the healthy vending policy. Under the current rules, aside from water and milk, drinks can be no more than 12 fl.oz. The new policy would allow drinks up to 20 fl.oz. but would not include soda.

Students are also asking the district to allow items with slightly more fat content. Currently, foods are only allowed in vending machines if 30% or less of the calories comes from fat, instead of the 35% state and national standard.

District officials said they plan to present a proposal to revise the policy by next spring. The new rules would likely match state and federal guidelines and take effect next school year. Separately, Washington state's King County Board of Health in April approved guidelines that encourage organizations in Seattle and the surrounding region to provide healthier choices in vending machines. | SEE STORY