Trans-fat ban in Colo. schools moves ahead

Those with fewer than 1,000 pupils would be overwhelmed, some say

DENVER – Trans fats would be banned from school meals under a bill the Senate approved Tuesday.

But opponents said Senate Bill 68 is a big, fat mandate on small schools.

It bans almost all trans fats from schools as of the fall 2013. Food sold at fundraisers would be exempted.

Most of the fight on the Senate floor this week centered on whether small schools should have to abide by the bill. Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, led the charge against including small schools.

“Can you imagine how little staff they have? Can you imagine how overwhelmed they are just to get done with their core mission?” Schwartz said.

But supporters succeeded in blocking the attempt to exclude districts with fewer than 1,000 students.

“They may be small, but that doesn’t mean they should be unhealthy,” said Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster.

Out of Colorado’s 178 school districts, 105 have fewer than 1,000 students. But those districts account for just a little more than 4 percent of Colorado’s student population, said Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City.

Many doctors consider trans fats the worst form of fat because they raise cholesterol levels in people who eat them, according to the Mayo Clinic. Trans fats are made by adding hydrogen to food oil in order to give it a longer shelf life.

The American Heart Association is lobbying for SB 68. The Colorado Rural Schools Caucus and Douglas County Public Schools – a large district in the Denver suburbs – oppose it.

Many districts say they have already scrubbed trans fats out of their cafeteria menus.

Two Democrats joined all 15 Republicans in opposing the bill, which passed 18-17.

In addition to fundraisers and bake sales, the bill allows an exemption for federal school lunch programs – a major source of school meals. But a federal ban on trans fats is in the works.

The Colorado ban would apply to food in vending machines and a la carte food sold in cafeterias.

Although Colorado has the nation’s lowest obesity rate, one in four of its children are overweight or obese, according to the 2012 KidsCount report by the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

The bill now goes to the House.

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