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California Bill To Toughen School Soft Drink Ban

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promoted legislation Monday that would encourage healthier food and drinks in schools, including a bill that would extend a ban on soft drinks from lower grades to high schools.

"This legislation is absolutely critical, not only for bringing more healthy food into our schools, but also because California is facing an obesity epidemic," Schwarzenegger said at a news conference.

According to the Associated Press report, Schwarzenegger urged lawmakers to pass SB395, which would only allow high schools to sell soda 30 minutes before and after the school day. During the day, schools could sell water, milk, drinks that are at least 50 percent fruit juice with no added sweeteners and sport drinks designed to replace electrolytes.

California became the first state to ban the sale of soft drinks in middle and elementary schools in 2003, over the objections of the beverage industry.

Bob Achermann, a lobbyist for the California-Nevada Soft Drink Association, said his group would fight against expanding the ban. He argued it would not keep the beverages out of the teenagers' hands.

"They can bring them to school, they can get them after school," he said. "They're high school students, they're almost adults."

Achermann also argued these decisions should be made at a local level.

Several districts, including Los Angeles Unified School District, already impose the soda ban in high schools.

The governor also backed Sen. Martha Escutia's SB12, a proposal to update and expand nutritional standards for food sold in school vending machines and snack bars.

Under Escutia's bill, food sold in schools would have to meet a 35-10-35 standard, meaning no more than 35 percent of its calories can come from fat, no more than 10 percent can come from saturated fat, and no more than 35 percent of its weight can be sugar.

Those standards were piloted in 16 schools under a 2003 bill, but were not rolled out statewide because funding wasn't approved.

SB12 would also update the pilot program guidelines by adding caloric limits to food items sold in schools.

"Right now we're saying, 'Gee, kids, a perfectly healthy snack is a two-pound bag of baked chips -- a thousand calories,' " said Phyllis Bramson-Paul, the director of nutrition services for the California Department of Education. "That's not the message we want to send."

The new restrictions would set calorie limits ranging from 150 calories to 250 calories depending on the grade levels.

The bill is currently in the Assembly.

The governor also promoted a measure that would tighten physical education requirements in schools, and another calling for more fruits and vegetables in meal programs.

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