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California bans school junk food

SACRAMENTO, Calif — The food served in California schools will be healthier starting next fall under legislation signed Thursday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The new laws impose a campus ban on the sale of sodas, set a new nutritional standard for vending-machine snacks, and require more fruits and vegetables in meal planning.

The former bodybuilding champion and fitness expert said the new rules are all part of a new effort to fight childhood obesity.

"California is facing an obesity epidemic," Schwarzenegger said at a conference on childhood obesity. "And more and more, children are becoming part of the problem."

Lawmakers made California the first state in the nation to ban the sale of soft drinks in middle and elementary schools two years ago. One of the bills signed by the governor Thursday will expand that ban to include high schools.

Beginning next July, students will be allowed to buy only water, milk, and some fruit and sport drinks that have limited sweeteners.

The governor also signed a bill that will raise nutritional standards for foods sold in school vending machines and regulate the number of calories that can come from fat and sugar. It also takes effect next July.

Another bill provides $18.2 million during this fiscal year to offer more fruits and vegetables in school meal programs.

The California bills set a new standard nationally for healthy school foods, according to the Washington D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Coke, Pepsi and other junk-food marketers enjoy being in schools because they know it is one of the only places they can target kids without parental interference," said Margo Wootan, the center's nutritional policy director said in a statement.

"But in California, parents have clearly had enough, and leaders of both parties took notice," she said.

Susan Neely, president of the American Beverage Association, called the ban on sodas "unnecessary" and said that students and parents would have been better served by a voluntary program.

"We believe this complex problem would be more effectively addressed by educating students on the importance of living a balanced lifestyle," Neely said in a statement.