By Mannix Porterfield
Gulping down a can of sugar-laden soda in any West Virginia school could become a thing of the past in a bill advanced Tuesday as a means of creating a healthier lifestyle in a generation beset with obesity.
Existing law forbids sugary soft drinks in elementary and middle or junior high levels, but allows high schoolers to drink them.
Jeff Johnson, counsel for the Joint Committee on Health, advised members that any decisions about fruit juices would be in the hands of the Department of Education.
“This is a recommendation from the Healthy Lifestyles Coalition,” Johnson said, explaining the bill that would remove all sugary sodas from public schools.
Danielle Walt-Swann, representing the West Virginia Beverage Association, supported the existing policy, suggesting high schoolers are “old enough to make choices to prepare for the real world, where choices are in front of them and help them to make healthy choices.”
“We believe what’s in the code now is correct,” she said.
Richard Goff, executive director of the state board, working in the office of child nutrition, told Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh, said the policy allows 100 percent fruit juices, milk and water.
So far, he said, only one county hasn’t eliminated the offending drinks.
Delegate Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, wondered if the ban on soft drinks would apply to athletic events.
“Typically,” Goff answered, “the policy does not govern after-school activities. So that would be exempt.”
Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, questioned the wisdom of banning soft drinks but allowing naturally sweet fruit juices.
After all, he reasoned, a can of fruit juice might contain the same amount of sugar as a soda.
“How did the board determine that pop, with 20 grams of sugar, is bad, but apple juice with 20 grams of sugar is good?” he asked.
“There is no nutrient value in sodas, compared to fruit juices,” Goff replied.
Staggers told committee members of her own school days, when children had milk with lunch, and water all day long, and “the obesity rate was much lower.”
“We were given a nickel to buy a soft drink or a candy bar after school, and no one starved to death,” she said.
“I’m just wondering if it would be appropriate thing for us to consider just taking all snacks, thinking that the children in that 8-hour day probably are not going to die of starvation. They might be able to live on lunch, breakfast, and whatever water they get.”
The bill ultimately was recommended for passage, along with one that would erase a section of state code that allows a parent, guardian or someone else in a responsible position to seek a court ruling for the sterilization of someone declared mentally incompetent.
“The Department of Corrections feels this is an archaic piece of legislation that’s been on the books for a number of years and is asking that it be repealed,” Johnson said.
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