Schools might not have to ban chips, candy and Cokes in vending machines after all.

Following months of hand-wringing, the State Board of Education on Friday backed off a proposed ban on junk food vending. Instead, the board wants to require school districts create policies on vending machine fare. A final vote on that new rule, plus a suggested limits on calories, sugar, fat and caffeine in foods outside school lunch offerings, might not come for another month or two.

Board member Bill Colbert praised allowing districts to make their own decisions.

The move follows presentations by Coke and Pepsi executives, who say they have stepped up to replace sugary drinks in schools with waters and diet sodas, and school districts worrying about their bottom line. Schools take in about $3.75 million a year for student programs from vending machine sales, the overwhelming majority of which are in middle and high schools.

Utah and 22 other states also received an F from School Foods Report Card from the Center for Science in the Public Interest for having no nutritional standards for food and drinks sold outside the cafeteria.

The state school board since summer has pondered a statewide ban on junk food in vending machines. For a time, the board planned to extend a Diet Coke ban into faculty rooms, but later backed off.

The idea is to send a message to students consistent with the state health core curriculum. The board didn't want kids learning about healthy eating habits in class then passing a pop machine on the way to the lunch room.

Salt Lake Pediatrician Mark Templeman urged a board committee to "help give students the message you're actually backing up what you're teaching in the curriculum."

But board member Greg Haws praised Coke and Pepsi executives for their corporate citizenship in improving beverages available to students. He and board member Mark Cluff disagreed with a pop-and-candy ban in the name of local control.

"(The ban) should be recommendations at this time to the school districts, and let them continue what they've already started doing," Cluff said.

But board member Randall Mackey favored restrictions.

"This is a proper role for the board at this point ... (to) take a stand on this issue."

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