The limits put on unhealthy lunch and snack food in Utah schools might seem like a hardship for those who are used to starting the day with a doughnut and a Coke, but the new federal rules are good for everyone.
School lunch was the first affected by new federal rules. More fruits and vegetables, less fat and sugar are mandated. New rules targeting vending machines, snack carts and kiosks on school grounds and club fundraisers and other events on school property will go into effect next school year.
Instead of cookies, cake, sugary punch and candy served or sold at such events, participants will get popcorn, trail mix, natural fruit juice and other less harmful items.
Schools now must limit candy and soda sales to non-lunch periods, in non-dining areas. But some students eat their snacks while walking around campus, so that rule has been difficult to enforce. Last year, Davis High in Kaysville and Box Elder High in Brigham City were fined $15,000-$20,000 for violating the rule.
Many Utah school have already changed the offerings in vending machines, but the rules governing school-supported events will come as a shock to many PTA and school-club officers and advisers who have long depended on sugary treats as a regular feature.
Critics says teenagers who are able to leave school to patronize convenience stores and other fast-food outlets will simply avoid school vending machines and lunchrooms and get their sugar-and-fat fixes elsewhere.
That the healthful rules aren't popular is probably true, but that's no reason to try to bend them. We may have to simply write off some older students whose eating habits are set.
But younger children whose tastes may still be changed, and older students who see the benefits, may yet be saved from recent dangerous trends toward obesity and poor nutrition that schools have traditionally supported with the food and snacks they offer.
Poor eating habits are contributing to the startling increase in overweight and obese children who often grow into obese adults. More than 60 percent of Utahns are either obese or overweight; 20.8 percent of Utah elementary school students and 20.8 percent of Utah high school students are at an unhealthy weight.
Diabetes, heart problems, and even some cancers linked to obesity are no longer just adult diseases. It's the responsibility of government to do all it can to encourage children to make more healthful choices.