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Trans fat ban proposed for Colorado schools

Ed Andrieski / AP

Maria Salas prepares salads for lunch in the kitchen at Kepner Middle School in Denver on Wednesday,

Colorado lawmakers are considering whether to require school districts to do away with margarine, vegetable shortening and other trans fats in what would be the nation’s toughest ban on unhealthy fats in school foods.

The proposal comes as federal authorities are already taking steps to minimize the amount of trans fat in schools as part of an overall plan to improve the health and nutrition of school lunches. Health experts have long warned that the consumption of trans fat, also known as partially hydrogenated oil, increases the risk of coronary heart disease. The American Heart Association, for example, recommends limiting the intake of trans fat to no more than 2 grams per day, about the amount found naturally in milk and meat.

“This would put Colorado one step of what’s going to happen,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “The USDA is going to do this nationally.”

But sponsors of the bill in Colorado say they don’t want to wait. The state, despite its reputation for being one of the healthiest in the nation, has one of the higher rates of childhood obesity, with 14.2 percent of children and adolescents considered obese.

“We’re trying to address that,” said state Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs.

Many school districts are already limiting the amount of trans fat in their school lunches by baking instead of frying potatoes or serving non-breaded meat products and increasing the amount of vegetables and whole grains on the menu.

But Colorado’s ban would go one step further than other states by applying the law to breakfasts and after-school snacks served in schools.  California, for example, bans trans fats during the school day but not during after-school events. Delaware also has a ban, but it doesn’t apply to school breakfasts or snacks.

State Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, said she was glad to hear that the federal government was taking steps to remove trans fat from school lunches but that a new state law would protect the health of Colorado youngsters even sooner, particularly since many children eat breakfast and lunch at school, and then go to district-sponsored programs at the end of the school day where they are served a snack.

“They’re eating more of their meals in a school setting than they are at home,” she said.

Neither Guzman nor Massey say they’ve seen any organized opposition to the proposal so far, but the track record for such legislation is not encouraging. Six other states last year considered but did not approve school trans fat bans, according to a recent report by the Associated Press, citing the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Regardless of what happens this spring in Colorado, school districts across the country should anticipate major changes in the school lunch program this fall under new rules expected soon from the USDA. The result will be twice as many fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, all low-fat milk and less salt on the menu.

“Under the new standard, school meals will get much better,” Wootan said.  

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