Kiss Coke and candy in your school vending machines goodbye or the state might take your lunch money.

That's one of the ideas the Utah Board of Education kicked around Friday in trying to come up with a way to regulate the snacks that make schoolkids fat.

Meanwhile, Salt Lake City School District is already moving forward with a sweets ban of its own, effective next summer.

The state school board decided Friday to draft a rule that would ban foods of minimal nutritional value in vending machines during school hours, throughout school campuses and in all grade levels. That means soda pop — exceptions would be made for diet soda — candy and candy-coated popcorn would be out.

Also, the rule would limit vended snacks to 250 calories, no more than 35 percent fat, 10 percent total calories from saturated fat and zero trans fat, and to have no more than 20 grams of carbohydrates.

The rule also could include a carrot — and a stick. The board might request one-time money from the Legislature to fill in for money lost from junk-food sales. Or, it could pull state school lunch funds for a day for districts that don't comply, or take away a school's trust land monies for noncompliance.

"We have to start someplace," said Luann Shipley, director of the child nutrition program for the State Office of Education, which recommended the draft rule. "There has to be a place where we're told how to eat correctly. School has to be that place."

The board is expected to discuss the proposed rule next month.

But even at this early stage, some are sour on a sweets ban.

"I don't like the word 'ban,"' or "require," said board member Greg Haws. "I am opposed to banning because I think personally that diet soda is worse ... than God's pure sugar."

The board is examining a possible ban on junk food after getting an F last year on the Center for Science in the Public Interest's State School Foods Report Card for its lack of statewide standards for vending machine fare. The move comes as doctors, parents and schools take aim at childhood obesity.

One-fourth of all Utah elementary and middle school kids tipped the scales at an unhealthy weight in a 2003 state health department study.

Sugary, fatty foods and too little running and playing have gotten much of the blame.

Yet past attempts at regulating school vending machine snacks have hit a brick wall. Lawmakers defeated a handful of bills sponsored by now-Sen. Pat Jones, D-Cottonwood Heights. Principals have said they rely on vending machine revenues to fund student activities.

Statewide, schools bring in about $3.75 million from vending machines, a legislative audit found last year.

One school district, Wasatch, has restocked vending machines with healthier fare. Its policy requires 70 percent of foods be healthy options. But revenues dropped, and students went off campus for treats. Still, Wasatch High principal Paul A. Sweat says the chance to improve kids' health is worth it.

Salt Lake City School District is taking steps similar to the state's proposal, including banning foods listed as having minimal nutritional value by the FDA and mandating a 250-calorie ceiling. Vending options in its schools also must include fruits and vegetables. Portions must be moderated.

The policy will be effective in high schools in summer 2008.

"It will be a big change," district spokesman Jason Olsen said. "It's important enough we've got to do it. We've got to get these things in place so the kids can be healthier."


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com