- Associated Press - Thursday, February 2, 2012

DENVER The nation’s leanest state is taking its sweet time as it considers a proposal aimed at getting junk food out of schools.

A Colorado House committee was expected to discuss a bill that represents the nation’s toughest regulations meant to keep trans fat away from students, but lawmakers Thursday delayed the hearing without explanation.

The bill would forbid trans fat in cafeteria lunches, but it wouldn’t stop there.

The proposed ban would apply to snacks in vending machines, bake-sale goodies and popular “a la carte” items on lunch lines such as ice cream or pizza, requiring any such treats to be prepared without artery-clogging trans fats.

Small amounts of trans fats occur naturally in many meat and dairy products, but most come from partially hydrogenated cooking oil. Many types of cooking fats, such as shortening, are available without trans fat.

Colorado’s measure would not apply to naturally occurring trans fats. But setting the proposal apart from similar restrictions in other states is a provision that extends to before- and after-school hours.

Delaware and California, for example, ban food with trans fat in schools, but not at all after-school activities.

Colorado has the nation’s lowest obesity rate, but that percentage is rising among young people.

In 2007, Colorado’s childhood obesity rate was the nation’s third-best. By 2010, it ranked 23rd, according to the Colorado Health Foundation.

Researchers attribute the change to sedentary behavior and a growing childhood poverty rate.

Lawmakers who sponsored the measure, a Republican and a Democrat, said that for Colorado to hang on to its prized leanest-state title, the state has to make healthy eating a higher priority for children.

“Colorado is one of the healthiest states, but has the one of the highest rates of childhood obesity,” said House Education Chairman Tom Massey, a Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors. “So if we’re going to do something about that, this is a step in the right direction.”

The American Heart Association and other supporters of the measure are working to assure skeptical lawmakers that the ban wouldn’t forbid childhood favorites such as pizza and french fries.

“You can still have the exact same food,” association lobbyist Susanna Morris said. “You’d have to find different ways of preparing them.”

Colorado’s Department of Education doesn’t have a statewide trans fat standard.

Janelle Asmus, a spokeswoman for the state education department, said a review “found the amount of trans fat in a school meal to be minimal.”

But, Ms. Asmus added, the review didn’t include items for sale in vending machines and after-school activities such as bake sales.

The General Assembly has not estimated how much the change would cost schools. The bill would not require changes to school kitchens or food preparation methods.

If approved, Colorado’s trans-fat ban would take effect next school year.