RIVER GROVE, IL – Citing alarming increases in health problems related to poor eating habits among children, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and House Republican Leader Tom Cross Thursday announced that they would introduce legislation banning junk food and soft-drinks from all school vending machines by January 1, 2005.
“When kids can buy all the soda and all the junk food they want, whenever they want, even in school, the fact that we’re seeing more and more health problems among children shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. That’s why House Republican Leader Tom Cross and I are proposing legislation that would ban soda and junk food from all schools in Illinois. That means elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. It means public schools, private schools, Catholic schools, and every other kind of school children attend. It also means we stop sending mixed messages to our children, by teaching them about nutrition in the classroom, and then selling them soda, and candy, and all kinds of junk food, only a few feet away. This has got to stop,” Blagojevich said.
“Nationally, 15% of children ages 5-19 are overweight, triple that of 20 years ago,” said Cross. “The increased weight is causing increases in serious medical conditions like Type II diabetes and is setting the stage for coronary heart disease, stroke or cancer.”
A study in Arkansas showed that Type II diabetes – a condition once found almost exclusively in adults – is up 800% among children compared to the past decade.
In addition, children nationwide are consuming an average 150 to 200 more calories per day than they did just 10 years ago. In fact, according to a new study from a nutrition organization called Project Lean, about a quarter of everything adolescent children eat would qualify as junk food: foods that are high in fat, high in sodium, and high in sugar.
Illinois’ school junk food ban is not expected to be a burden for schools that have existing vending contracts. Blagojevich pointed out that the major soft-drink companies also produce healthy beverages: Coca-Cola owns Minute Maid and Dansani Water; Pepsi owns Gatorade, Fruitopia and Aquafina.
Some schools that have instituted junk food bans are actually making money as a result. Schools in New York are reaping significant profits – $166 million – under a contract they signed with Snapple to provide vending machines that offer only water and fruit juices. Los Angeles conducted three pilot programs last year, each finding that school vending machines that offered healthy alternatives were just as popular as those that offered candy bars and soda. At one of the schools – Venice High School – monthly beverage sales increased by $1,200 after healthy alternatives replaced soft drinks in the vending machines. In Illinois, north suburban Mundelein High School has not seen a drop in sales since it banned soda and junk food at the beginning of this school year.
The comprehensive package unveiled by Blagojevich and Cross today includes a number of other provisions, including:
- Modifying physical education curriculums in schools to stress health, wellness, and physical activity. This will help encourage a life long health conscious life style and help combat the increasing trend toward inactivity and overeating at an earlier age.
- Creating the Juvenile Diabetes Research and Nutritional Health Fund to be used for juvenile diabetes research, nutritional health programs, education and public awareness campaigns, and a new nutritional awareness hotline. Money deposited into this fund will come from voluntary donations that can be made by individuals when they apply for driver’s licenses or state ID cards, and from a voluntary checkoff on Illinois income tax forms.
- Designating the months of January and February as Children’s Nutritional Awareness Months to encourage individuals to develop healthy eating habits and engage in more physical activity.
- Introducing a resolution urging Congress to strengthen and improve the Child Nutrition Program and the National School Lunch Program in order to promote healthier eating habits of school-aged children.
“These proposals target children and adolescents in the hope of fostering early healthy relationships with food, not only to prevent unhealthy weight gain, but also to prevent other harmful eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia,” said Cross.
Cross filed the package today and will push for its prompt consideration when the Illinois General Assembly returns to Springfield in January.
“Every study shows that healthier students have higher attendance rates, better behavior, and superior test scores. Common sense shows that students who eat healthier foods will do better in school. I’m hopeful our colleagues in the Statehouse will support this legislation. I’m confident that parents across the state will urge them to.” Blagojevich concluded.