TRENTON – The Senate Education Committee approved legislation sponsored by Senators Shirley K. Turner and Ellen Karcher that would enact new nutritional standards for food sold in public schools, limiting the availability of high-calorie beverages and foods high in sugar or fat to students during school hours.
“Far too many school-aged children are dealing with obesity and the health problems it causes,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “School isn’t only about teaching kids the three R’s. It’s also about exposing them to a healthy and responsible behaviors and giving them the knowledge needed to make the right choices as they reach adulthood. The lessons learned now in choosing healthy foods will stay with them a lifetime.”
The bill, a committee substitute for S-1913, S-1916, and S-1627, would prohibit the sale or distribution of food of “minimal nutritional value” to students in all public elementary and middle schools. Current federal regulations define “foods of minimal nutritional value” as having less than five percent of the Reference Daily Intake for each of eight specified nutrients per serving. The prohibition would end thirty minutes after the end of the school day.
“Recent statistics have highlighted America’s trend toward obesity, and often, the poor health choices of adults are first learned as children,” said Senator Karcher, D-Monmouth and Mercer. “We must promote healthier dietary decisions in school-age children in New Jersey if we’re going to stem the tide of obesity that is sweeping across the nation. Given the health risks of obesity, promoting healthier eating is really a matter of life and death.”
The bill would also set limitations to the types of foods that could be made available to students in vending machines before and during school hours. Vending machines would not be permitted to contain any food or beverage listing sugar in any form as the first ingredient or contains more than 8 total grams of fat, or 2 grams of saturated fat, per serving. Nuts and seeds would be exempt from this guideline.
“Obesity is becoming an epidemic that is costing the country billions of dollars in health care costs. It’s time for all Americans to become more aware about their eating habits and food choices. Fast food restaurants are realizing the need to offer healthy choices to its customers and our schools need to do the same. This bill is not just about blocking junk foods – it’s about developing good eating habits that keep our kids healthy and save us money on health care,” added Senator Turner.
“In today’s fast-paced society, with everyone always on the go, sometimes it’s just easier to stop at a drive-thru or a vending machine, but children have to realize that quick meals-on-the-go can have unintended, unhealthy consequences,” said Senator Karcher. “By taking the time to stop and have a healthy meal, as opposed to high-calorie energy drinks or high-sugar candy bars, they will lead a longer, healthier life.”
The Senate Education Committee passed the bill by a vote of 5-0. It now goes to full Senate for their approval.