Texas Public Schools Told to Cut Sugar and Fatty Foods to Combat Obesity

Deep-fried fritters and whole milk are on the way out, and baked chips are in at Texas public schools.

In an effort to fight childhood obesity, the Texas Agriculture Department is revamping the rules on what foods public schools can serve to their 4.2 million students. Schools have until August to adapt.

The changes range from requiring that canned fruits be packed only in natural juices or light syrups to limiting chips to the reduced-fat or baked varieties.

Deep fat frying is banned altogether, and so are pizza fund-raisers that compete with the cafeteria. There are also limits on how often french fries can be served, how much fat and sugar a meal can have, and what kinds of milk can be offered (2 percent, 1 percent or skim).

The policy expanded on a move last August by Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs that banned "foods of minimal nutritional value," including sodas, hard candy and gum, during the elementary-school day and at middle-school lunches.

Combs noted Wednesday that 38 percent of Texas fourth-graders are overweight.

"This is a real problem," Combs said. "Schools ought to have a healthy food environment."

About 20 states already restrict students' access to junk food until after lunch, and about two dozen states are considering total bans or limits on vending machine products.

The Texas policy issued this week and takes effect Aug. 1 for schools participating in the national school lunch, breakfast and after-school snack programs.

Some school officials said the deadline is too soon and the cost of implementing the plan remains unclear.

"At a time when school districts face cuts in essential programs and staff, we remain concerned about possible additional unfunded mandates," said Kathy Golson, a lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Boards.

The ban on deep frying, for example, could require some schools to get rid of fryers and force them to buy more ovens, she said. On the Net: