SOUTH ORANGE, NJ– The legislation just keeps coming to try to slow down the childhood obesity epidemic. In early June, New Jersey became the first state to ban soda and junk foods, but many states are following their lead.

Acting Governor Richard J. Codey announced in early June that, by September 1, 2007, New Jersey school districts will be required to adopt a comprehensive statewide policy that will ban soda and junk foods, and teach better eating habits.

“Schools are where children spend most of their time,” Codey said in a release. “Instead of encouraging bad eating habits and bad health with the easy accessibility of candy and soda, schools must be a place where we teach good nutrition and lay the foundation for good eating habits. Today New Jersey starts on a different path. We will make our schools a national leader in the effort to give our children a head start on a longer, healthier and more enjoyable life.”

The timeline is set by the state Agriculture Department’s amended Nutrition Rule, which includes the Model School Nutrition Policy. The policy will be phased in, giving school districts time to adjust. By Sept. 1, 2006, districts will be required to adopt a school nutrition policy. By Sept. 1, 2007, districts will have to match their policies to the Model School Nutrition Policy as laid out in the amended Nutrition Rule.

South Orange Middle School in New Jersey’s service director, Pat Johnson, already has incorporated many of the regulations of the Model School Nutrition Policy. The school’s beverage vending machines include no carbonated beverages. The cafeteria features a salad bar and other fresh fruits and vegetables daily and has replaced fried side dishes with vegetables.

“People told us that participation in our school lunch program would decrease, but it actually has gone up,” said Johnson. “If you offer the healthy foods, the kids will eat them.”

Once adopted statewide by Sept. 1, 2007, the Model School Nutrition Policy will apply to all vending machines, cafeterias, a la carte lines, snack bars, school stores, fundraisers and the reimbursable After School Snack Program.

Connecticut is considering a junk food ban as well. Legislation prohibiting the sale of sugary sodas, candy bars and other junk foods in schools passed the Connecticut House of Representatives and is headed back to the state Senate, where it has passed once before in slightly different form.

According to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the bill would allow only juice, milk, water and healthy snacks in K through 8 vending machines. A successful amendment to the bill would allow diet sodas and Gatorade-type sports drinks in high schools but only after the lunch hour.

"Schools should be offering the best of everything, not the worst," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "The explosion in childhood obesity and diabetes has many contributing factors, and one of them is the availability of high-calorie soft drinks and candy bars in schools. It’s about time a state legislature stood up to greedy soda companies and put kids’ health first.”

The bill also would ensure that Connecticut students in grades K through 5 receive at least 20 minutes of recess per day, in addition to existing physical education classes.

Further information about the policy can be found at http://www.state.nj.us/agriculture/modelnutritionpolicy.htm