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L.A. Unified Food Plan Would Trim Fat

July 23, 2003|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles school board member Marlene Canter, the driving force behind L.A. Unified's ban on sodas in schools last year, is seeking to enhance the overall nutrition of the district's cafeteria and snack food to help reduce student obesity.

Canter introduced a motion Tuesday that would set stricter guidelines for the fat, sugar and sodium content of food; adopt portion sizes in line with USDA guidelines; and provide salad and fruit bars at all district schools.

The prevalence of obesity among children has more than doubled since 1980, to about 12% nationwide, and the rate may be more than twice that in low-income areas of Los Angeles, county officials estimate. Heavy adolescents are much more likely than their peers to become obese as adults, research shows, and this puts them at high risk of developing illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes.

Other research has suggested a strong correlation between good nutrition and student achievement.

Canter said she had always intended to follow up the soda ban -- which goes into full effect in the district in January 2004 -- with a more sweeping proposal on school food.

The initial motion -- which would be refined before a school board vote in September -- contains "everything but the kitchen sink," Canter acknowledged. She said she would take suggestions from fellow board members and refine the language.

Among other things, she said, she would work with Supt. Roy Romer to prioritize goals so that those with the smallest effect on the school district's budget would be implemented first.

Still, she insisted, the overall effort "is first and foremost a health issue, not an economic issue." She said she is confident that she will be able to show that serving healthful foods at schools is not always more expensive.

Also at Tuesday's school board meeting, Canter presented a separate motion asking the district's staff to evaluate the school cafeterias and eating areas in hopes of improving their design so more students eat there.

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