Topeka State health officials on Tuesday sounded the alarm about childhood obesity, but school officials and soda companies balked at a proposal to shut down vending machines.
"When schools allow children to purchase unhealthy snacks and beverages from vending machines they are very much like the parent who smokes while telling his child not to," said Gary Brunk, executive director of Kansas Action for Children.
But some school officials told the House Education Committee that House Bill 2275, which would require turning off vending machines during school hours, would be disruptive and self-defeating.
Diane Gjerstad, a lobbyist for the Wichita school district, said high school students would simply leave campus and buy food at convenience stores.
Plus, she and other school representatives said schools statewide have launched nutrition initiatives to put healthier items in vending machines.
"We have all revamped our policies," she said.
Ron Hein, a lobbyist for the Kansas Beverage Association, said the issue "was yesterday's news." He said beverage companies have been working with school districts on a voluntary basis to provide lower-calorie drinks.
Last fall the Lawrence school district improved the nutritional offerings in vending machines and tightened operating times.
"The school board was already ahead of this," said Paula Murrish, director of food services for the district.
In Lawrence, there are no vending machines for students in elementary schools, and the ones in junior high schools are only available after school hours and are limited to water, juice and sports drinks.
In high school, the vending machines are available one hour after the last lunch period and half of the drinks and snacks must meet higher nutritional standards.
Murrish said the new policy would continue to be fine-tuned.
"We will continue to build on this," she said.
The Education Committee also heard House Bill 2090, which would require schools to measure each student's height and weight in grades four, seven, nine and 12 to figure out their body mass index, or BMI.
The information would be used by state officials to develop physical fitness policies and guidelines.
"This is absolutely the responsible thing to do for the health of our children," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood.
Committee Chairman Clay Aurand, R-Courtland, said the panel would probably work on the two measures later this week.
Dr. Howard Rodenberg, state director of health, said childhood obesity rates have tripled in the last 20 years.
He said the bill would reduce future health care costs and improve academics.
"Healthy children perform better in schools," he said.
But again schools fought back, saying the physical exams would take away from instructional time needed to prepare students for standardized testing under the federal No Child Left Behind requirements.
Murrish also said the BMI often can be misleading. For example, she said, a thin child may have a great BMI, but he or she may also have little upper body strength.
"There's just not one test that tells you everything you need to know," she said.