Junk food banned in Illinois elementary, middle schools

By Erin Lindsay

The Illinois Joint Committee on Administrative Rules approved a state-wide junk food ban Oct. 10 with strong support from Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

After research presented that students with healthier lives and diets have higher attendance rates, better behavior, and superior test scores, Blagojevich proposed the bill to ban junk food and soda in elementary and middle schools last November.

“Ask any parent if they want their child drinking soda and eating candy at school – and they’ll say no,” Gov. Blagojevich said in a press release.

The National School Lunch Program has updated Illinois’ plan. Existing rules already ban the sale of junk food during breakfast and lunch times, but the ban will now prohibit sales throughout the day.

President of the Champaign Parent and Teacher’s Association Brian Minsker said the issue was discussed at the most recent Champaign PTA meeting.

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“I think it’s generally a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go as far as parents would like,” Minsker said. “Most of the parents are in favor of the policy and would still like to see juice taken out of the elementary schools in favor of having only milk.”

Much research has supported the theory of junk food and soda as contributors to America’s ranking as one of the most obese countries in the world. A recent study found that 61 percent of residents and nearly one in four adults are obese in Illinois. This number has grown in the recent year.

Sherry Alimi, principal of Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Champaign, said that while the ban is a great idea, some students’ parents will continue to pack both junk food and soda in their children’s lunches.

“I had a discussion with a parent who told me it was none of my business,” Alimi said. “I don’t want to be lunch patrol, but there need to be more guidelines for the policy.”

According to a press release, a recent study from Project Lean found that one quarter of everything adolescents eat is considered junk food. From chips to chocolate, children are consuming on average 150 to 200 more calories per day than they did just ten years ago. In addition, 15 percent of all children ages 5 to 19 are overweight. Alimi said the epidemic is particularly relevant among poorer people.

“We’re having a childhood obesity problem,” Alimi said. “Junk foods such as macaroni and cheese are relatively cheaper than healthy foods, and now childhood diabetes is growing in homes of poverty. A combination of poor nutrition and health habits are creating a crisis for students that could last their whole lives.”

While the ban goes in to effect immediately, Alimi said the lunch program at all schools should be re-evaluated. As a faculty member who likes to cut down on carbohydrates, she said she is faced with very few options at her own school’s lunchroom.

Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and West Virginia have also created similar bans.