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Science panel urges a ban on junk food in schools

WASHINGTON -- A prestigious scientific panel yesterday urged the government to ban soft drinks, sugary snacks and other junk food from schools, saying the typical fare available in vending machines, at snack bars, and at class birthday parties is contributing to the growing obesity of America's children.

The report by the Institute of Medicine, which Congress requested, said less-nutritious items should be replaced with healthier food, such as fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.

It emphasized adding snacks with more whole grains and less sodium, saturated fat, and added sugar.

Federal officials recently proposed raising the nutritional standards for school lunches or breakfasts, but the recommendations issued yesterday are the first national attempt to address the healthfulness of so-called competitive school foods -- snacks and drinks that often are sold to raise money for schools.

In place of potato chips, chocolate bars, and other popular snacks, the report said, schools should sell healthier options such as apples, carrot sticks, raisins, low-sugar cereals, whole-grain tortilla chips, granola bars, and nonfat yogurt with no more than 30 grams of added sugar.

The proposed guidelines also urge limiting the calorie content of all snacks and drinks -- to no more than 200 per portion -- and switching to items that contain no more than 35 percent of calories from fat, no trans fats, less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat, and lower levels of sugar and sodium.

The report by the Institute, a branch of the National Academies of Sciences, also urged eliminating sports drinks, soft drinks, and caffeinated drinks.