The move follows a similar bill passed about three years ago when Congress voted to eliminate all vending machines from the nation's elementary schools.
But before Congress introduced its latest bill, the Utah State Board of Education was already looking at passing a similar policy. However, the bid to place a statewide embargo on school vending machines that sell junk food was shot down in December when only four of the 15-member board voted in favor of the proposal.
Those board members opposing the proposed policy felt it was an issue better left to the individual school districts. In a recent newspaper article, board member Dixie Allen was quoted, calling the ban a "slap in the face" to local school districts that already have healthy policies as directed by the federal government.
So instead, the board voted to require the school districts to come up with their own policies on vending machines and other fares not under the school lunch program and submit them to the state board by January 2009 for approval.
Vending machines generate big money, however, bringing in nearly $4 million in sales to high schools and middle schools throughout the state. The schools depend on this revenue to help fund various things not paid for by the district, including some of the sports programs and additional technology in the classroom.
And with this much money being pumped into the school, it's hard for administrators to argue in favor of taking out the vending machines. Likewise, administrators maintain the schools would suffer a similar loss if they were to exchange candy and soda for bottled water and carrots.
"I don't know how we would do it without this money," says Rick Palmer, principal of St. George's Pine View High School. "I don't know any schools who can afford to take out these vending machines. They help pay for too much." Palmer adds that he doesn't believe the water and health food items would sell as well.
However, Bobby Garrett, the principal at nearby Tonaquint Intermediate School, maintains she has actually experienced an increase in revenue by having her only two vending machines stocked with bottled water.
"We're sold out all the time," Garrett says. "I can't keep the vending machines stocked because the kids are buying them so fast. The water sells a lot better than the soda or junk food ever did."
Beyond the obvious nutritional value of selling the water rather than the sodas and junk food at school, Garrett says she has seen fewer discipline problems.
While the elementary schools are not allowed to have vending machines, many of them do provide a school store where students can pick up such items as candy, chips and soda. In the last few years, however, even that has declined as more elementary schools are choosing to participate in the statewide Gold Medal Schools Program.
Introduced by the Department of Health in 2005, the schools that opt to participate in this program agree to promote healthy lifestyles among students. In return, the schools are given cash to buy various things they need to do this.
Congress and the state school board aren't the only ones who want to abolish junk food from the schools. A study conducted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) also called for a ban on high-fat, high-sugary foods in vending machines and school snack bars.
The study, commissioned by Congress, was released in April and recommended that schools adopt common standards limiting food sales to fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and whole-grain snacks. It would also control portion sizes and the calories, sodium, added sugar and fat content of food sold to children.
The push for healthier foods for America's children have even some of the major snack food and beverage companies volunteering to limit their junk food sales in public schools.
In a statement released by Grocery Manufacturers of America, the organization said the IOM report "shines an important spotlight on childhood obesity" but "ignores the tremendous progress that has been made in recent years in improving the school food environment--changes that were developed as a result of dialogue and collaboration between the food industry, educators, parents and health groups."
The IOM's recommendations were meant to both promote healthy eating and to displace the junk food currently on sale in many schools across the nation. The report also bans any high-sugar sports drinks from elementary and middle schools. It goes on to recommend that in high school these drinks -- along with some snack foods including baked potato chips and pretzels -- would still be allowed, but only during limited times.
"All schools are trying to move slowly toward getting rid of their vending machines," notes Bill Fulmer, principal of Farmington Junior High School in Davis County. "We have taken out all caffeinated drinks and are moving toward taking out all carbonated drinks, as well."
But that effort hasn't come without a price. "We do sell a lot of lemonade and Gatorade, but we have lost a bit of money because healthy choices don't sell as well. However, everyone is just trying to move forward."
As for the cafeteria kitchens, the federal government years ago ensured the food served from there would be nutritional and healthy by handing down federal standards that dictate nutrition content of school lunches. Still, some experts are saying these aren't enough, and standards need to be higher.
John Robinson, wellness committee co-chair for the Davis School District, said federal policies adopted in June 2006 were so loose that some schools could simply tell students to be healthy, but nothing else would come of it. Others, such as in the Davis School District, opted to take more drastic steps.
"Our intent was to move in a direction to reduce child obesity and the effects of it," Robinson says. "Our direction was that if we were going to do it, we were going to do the right thing."
The first step was to reduce treats in elementary schools--meaning no more birthday or reward treats. The second step was to change recess time to before lunch so it would allow students more time to sit down and eat. In addition, he said, secondary schools will no longer carry soda or unhealthy foods in their vending machines.
Food service officials throughout the state believe Utah is doing a good job in making sure students are eating healthy foods at school. Current efforts include making sure that even snacks have high nutritional value and that healthy foods look appealing. Some even involve students in the decision making process by giving them samples to try before they become part of the menu.
In school food services for more than 20 years, Janet Wood, nutritional specialist for the Washington County School District, says she has seen a lot change in that time--most of it to the benefit of the students.
"They used to cook more from scratch than they do now," Wood says. "There was a time we had homemade butter and could use lots of salt which made the foods saturated with fat and sodium. Now we have to watch all that. We've definitely become more health conscious, which is better for the students and their health. We didn't know back then what we know today."