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Vancouver schools cracking down on Junk food

December 28, 2007 | By More

Elementary schools say they’re ready for new rules in January prohibiting junk-food sales to students, but parents who peddle hot dogs, pizzas and chocolate to raise money for their schools are still grappling with the change. The province-wide push to get junk food out of schools means parents who raise money by selling goodies will have to re-examine their products to ensure they meet provincial guidelines. The campaign starts in elementary schools and moves into middle schools and high schools in September.

Some foods will have to be dropped altogether while others will have to be modified, which could make them less appealing. “It’s a lot easier when you sell chocolate,” Phil Moses, principal of Captain Cook elementary school in Vancouver, said in an interview. “Making a profit on whole wheat pizza could be difficult.”

The province has distributed rules indicating which foods are no longer allowed to be sold in schools through vending machines, stores, cafeterias or fundraisers. The rules divide foods into two categories — those that are considered healthy and may be sold in schools and those that are considered generally unhealthy and are off-limits. The latter category includes highly processed foods and those with large amounts of sweetener, salt, fat and calories relative to their nutritional value. In some cases, the ban is clear: schools are not to sell crackers, muffins, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, pastries, croissants, sugary cereals, popcorn, chips, cheesies, cream cheese, fries, candy, chocolate, pop, coffee and any drinks with artificial sweeteners. But in other cases, the ban depends on the ingredients. For example, it includes many — but not all — fruit juices, tomato and vegetable juices, pasta salads, stir-fries, sandwiches with deli or processed meats, sausage or vegetable rolls, tuna salads, wieners and sausages, meat pies and pizzas.

Geoff Burns, vice-principal at a Nelson school that was one of the first to experiment with B.C.’s new rules, said one of the biggest challenges was deciphering labels to determine which foods were in the “unhealthy” category but could still be okay given that they contained unusually low amounts of salt, sugar or fat. “It was crazy,” he said in an interview, describing how staff at Trafalgar middle school pulled items from vending machines to examine labels and make a judgment. That process is easier now that the government has expanded its Dial-A-Dietician service (604-732-9191 or 1-800-667-3438) to help schools determine which foods are still okay and which ones are not.

The discussion about ending junk-food sales in Canadian schools began almost 10 years ago, but there was little action until recently when Ontario and Quebec joined B.C. in legislating bans. Alberta is leaving decisions on junk-food sales to individual schools.The B.C. government first promised to stop junk-food sales in October 2004 but delayed implementation until 2009, saying it wanted to give schools a chance to adjust and fulfil contractual obligations with suppliers. Recently, however, Education Minister Shirley Bond moved the deadline forward by a year, noting that one of every four children in the province is overweight. She also announced plans to require students to engage in 30 minutes of daily physical activity starting next fall.

Many schools worried a junk-food ban would result in a loss of revenue, especially in large high schools where vending machines dispensing pop, candy and chips can bring in $30,000 a year or more. But Burns said the change won’t necessarily mean less money. In his school, vending machine revenue rose slightly after healthy products were introduced. Students spent more on drinks when the offerings changed from sodas to power drinks and later to water and fruit juice, boosting revenues to an average of $150 a month from $70.But they bought fewer snacks, and food revenues fell to $225 a month from $290. Trafalgar is not yet fully in compliance with provincial rules because of the difficulty in finding healthy snacks, Burns said.

Asked about the students’ reaction to the change, he said: “I have heard no complaints whatsoever. The kids get it. They understand that selling candy at lunch is probably not the best thing for them.” The change did not affect the school’s parent advisory council because unlike most PACs in B.C., it does not engage in fundraising — for philosophical reasons, he added. Although Trafalgar now offers healthier choices, Burns told the annual teachers’ congress last month that it still has a way to go to satisfy all provincial rules.

There continues to be a debate about whether schools should be selling any foods or bottled water to students, especially given the environmental effects of the packaging, he said. Susan Lambert, vice-president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, won applause from about 100 teachers from around the province attending the congress when she stated emphatically that schools should not sell any such products to students. “I don’t think there is room in our schools for any vending machines — whether they sell Coke or water,” she said.

Category: Food

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