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Legislation to ban trans fat at schools
March 14, 2007, 12:00 AM By Heather Murtagh
Healthier foods could soon be offered in school cafeterias statewide by 2009 as the state Assembly will begin discussing banning trans fat — the processed fat found in goodies like potato chips, cookies, crackers and other snacks.

Any food offered by schools to children in kindergarten through high school would be subject to stricter regulations — no artificial fat, period — under new legislation proposed by assemblymen Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Ted Lieu, D-Torrance. This goes for food made fresh or sold in a wrapper. The Assembly Education Committee will take on the health conscious conversation today.

Health regulations for children is becoming a trend in legislation, especially in California.

"This is recognition of what most of us know is a pretty important topic, child obesity and how to create healthier eating habits,” said Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, who also serves as the chair of the Assembly Education Committee.

Staff is still analyzing the bill and the committee will likely support it, Mullin said.

Healthier options began in the Burlingame Elementary School District four years ago when saturated and trans fat were pulled from snack options, said Superintendent Sonny Da Marto. When the district implemented its new hot-food lunch program during the 2005-2006 school year, it kept the high nutritional expectations. Participation, however, is an issue.

"What is necessarily healthy for you is not necessarily the most attractive,” he said.

Burlingame offers items like pizza and panninis using healthier options like whole wheat bread and skim cheese.

Last year, the San Mateo Union High School District made a step toward healthier options cutting the sugar out of the high schools in all aspects — vending machines, food service program, student stores and fundraisers.

Trans fat is an artificial fat formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to result in a more solid consistency and longer shelf life for the food. It’s commonly found in shortenings, margarine and some vegetable oils, as well as baked or fried food with those ingredients. Trans fat is linked to increases in cholesterol and increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancer.

Currently, food served as part of the national school lunch and breakfast program must have no more than 30 percent of calories from fat and no more than 10 percent from saturated fat to receive full reimbursement. Food served outside the national program can have no more than 35 percent of calories from fat. The new rule proposed the artificial fat not be used at all.

Senate Bill 20 introduced by state Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch in December, is a similar bill. Rather than banning the use of trans fat, Torlakson proposes raising the initiative to go trans fat-free by raising the state reimbursement to schools for free and reduced lunches from 21 cents to 30 cents as long as the meals are trans fat free. The bill is scheduled to be discussed by the Senate Health Committee March 28.

Heather Murtagh can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105. What do you think of this story? Send a letter to the editor: 

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