US legislators have fired their latest salvo in the war against child obesity.

Democrat senator Tom Harkin is leading Republican colleagues in calling for a change in the Department of Agriculture's 30-year-old definition of "foods of minimal nutritional value". Such a rewrite would virtually outlaw the sale of high fat/high sugar brands in the nation's schools.

Currently the definition covers flavored ices, chewing gum, lollipops, licorice and cotton candy among others. These products cannot be sold during school lunch breaks but are available on school property, including in vending machines, at other times.

Harkin's Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act calls for examination of saturated fats, calories, salt and portion sizes, extending the "minimal nutritional value" definition to most candies, chips and sodas. The law would also curb their sale anywhere on school grounds during the school day.

Republican senator Lisa Murkowski says it is wrong to teach children about health, then let them walk through the school doors to see vending machines. Her colleague Chris Shays states baldly: "What we are doing in the schools to our kids is basically poisoning them."

Kevin Keane, svp at the American Beverage Industry, has branded the legislation "a hidden attempt" to ban the sale of soft drinks in schools.

The view of the industry is: "If you want to commit to ending childhood obesity, you need to teach kids about eating a balanced diet and to do more physical activity."

And Stephanie Childs, from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, says it is still reviewing the legislation, but food companies are working with state officials on school wellness policies and products to meet new standards and nutritional needs.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff