School district will discuss provincial plans to ban ‘junk-food’ 

The Howe Sound School Board will be discussing the provincial government’s recently announced plan to ban junk food from schools.

"We will certainly be looking at it," said school superintendent Dr. Rick Erickson.

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell made the announcement last week while attending the Liberal party’s biannual convention in Whistler. The ban would come into effect within four years if the Liberals win a second term in the May 17 election.

The proposal has been budgeted for and the government plans to hire consultants to help them find a path through the food minefield.

The idea, while generally popular, is likely to be controversial, as one person’s healthy snack may not be someone else’s. Most people would welcome the removal of pop from vending machines in schools. But some would argue that the fruit juice replacements are not much better as they contain almost as much sugar and as many calories.

It also raises the issue of taking away choices from students.

"We want to help children make the right choices with regard to healthy food and not having it available may or may to help them in that area," said Erickson. "Choices are available so we will be looking at the availability of various foods and then we will be discussing the concept of do we remove the choice or do we spend more time helping (students) make the right choice."

Kids do learn about this throughout the school curriculum as well as fitness and nutrition. Erickson also pointed out that the healthy diet message is reaching kids all over the province.

"I am aware that throughout British Columbia, in beverage dispensers that include Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, that it has been my experience that kids more and more purchase water," said Erickson. "High school kids are making better choices when they have pop and water in front of them, which is a significant change."

Howe Sound Secondary is the only school in the district that offers cafeteria food but it is part of a program and so it tends to be healthy for the most part, said Erickson.

It is unclear how Parent Advisory Council fundraisers such as pizza and sushi days would be affected by the ban.

At Myrtle Philip School there are vending machines which contain pop, but they are run by the Community Centre at the school and students are not allowed to use them said Principal Ron Albertin. And Whistler Secondary made the switch from junk to juice in the last school year.

"Although (Campbell) made the big announcement I think most schools are already there," said Whistler Secondary Principal Bev Oakey.

She admits that the students weren’t thrilled when the change took place and some even grumbled about it. So it was a bit of surprise, said Oakey, when the school found it made more money selling the new healthy choices than it ever did selling pop.

Oakey admits she was concerned about what the Pepsi representative would say when the school decided to switch from pop to juice.

"But they see the writing on the wall," she said, adding that the vending operator wasn’t even that surprised by the request and had a host of choices ready for the school.

The school is also considering bringing in a machine that will dispense chocolate and white milk in the future. The food vending machine does still have the odd chocolate bar, said Oakey, but that too is being phased out slowly.

Erickson does not believe the change will cause problems with the vending machines operators overall, since their main concern is selling the goods in the machines. If kids want healthier choices then the machine operators will likely provide it, said Erickson.

Many schools in B.C. have already moved toward a "no-junk-food" policy. The Central Okanagan school board passed district-wide healthy food guidelines for school stores and vending machine in March.

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