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Education Group says State Drink-Vending Rules Too Strict

Middle schools in Tennessee can only sell 8 oz. drinks in campus vending machines. Education officials says they want to sell larger bottles to offer more variety, but health officials say giving children more calories is a bad idea.

A rule designed to prevent children from gulping down too many liquid calories at school is having the impractical effect of banning all but bottled water in some campus vending machines, says the Tennessee Association of Middle Schools.

Currently, the state Board of Education, with input from the Department of Education and the Department of Health, passes regulations governing “nutritionally sound portion sizes” for food and drink products sold to students of middle-school age or younger.

The result has been that schools are prohibited from selling any drinks in containers larger than 8 oz., and it is preventing schools from selling juices — not to mention costing districts money in vending sales to children, complained Richie Stevensen, principal of Lake Forest Middle School in Cleveland.

Stevensen, testifying before the House Education Committee this week, said his school district, located about 30 miles west of Chattanooga, is losing out on as much as $6,000 a year in vending machine income as a result of the ban.

“We can’t sell an orange juice or an apple juice or anything because none of the manufacturers with the Minute Maid Corporation, PepsiCo, manufacture a product either 10 or 12 ounces,” said Stevensen, who also represented the middle schools association before the committee.

The state Department of Public Health opposes the proposal, saying that with one in ten Tennesseans suffering from diabetes, increasing portion sizes will weaken the state government’s fight against fat.

The smaller bottles help teach children portion sizes, says Nan Allison, a registered dietitian and lobbyist for the Tennessee Dietetic Association. Larger sizes mean an extra 100 calories a day or an extra five to ten pounds a year.

Nationally, 7.8 percent of people have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Tennessee’s rate is 10.3 percent, according to the Department of Public Health.

The Senate voted 30-1 in favor of its version of the bill back in March.

A minor political kerfuffle flared at the time after the sponsor of the legislation, Republican Sen. Dewayne Bunch, made a comment about “nutritional Nazi police on school campuses” during the brief Senate floor discussion.

State Democratic Party chairman Chip Forrester later seized on Bunch’s remark, calling it “the height of insensitivity.” Bunch later apologized and indicated he was merely channeling Seinfeld’s “The Soup Nazi” episode.

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