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Colorado mulls toughest trans-fat ban in country

(CBS/AP) The thinnest state in the country might be getting even thinner.

Colorado is mulling a trans-fat ban in school cafeterias that would be the toughest in the country.

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A Colorado House committee is slated to hear a bill Thursday to forbid any trans-fat in school food - not just the food served through regular cafeteria lunches. That includes vending machines, after-school bake sales and popular "a la carte" items on lunch lines such as ice creams or pizza would have to be produced without artery-clogging trans fats. If approved, Colorado's trans-fat ban would take effect next school year.

Several states already limit trans-fat in school cafeterias, but none has a trans-fat ban that extends before and after school. For example, Delaware and California both ban school food with trans-fat, but not at all after-school activities.

Colorado has the nation's lowest obesity rate, but its young people are becoming fatter along, much like their counterparts in the rest of the country. In 2007, Colorado's childhood obesity rate was the nation's third-best, but in 2010 it ranked 23rd according to the Colorado Health Foundation. Researchers attribute this change to sedentary behavior and a growing childhood poverty rate.

Lawmakers who sponsored the trans-fat ban - a Republican and a Democrat - said Colorado needs to step up healthy eating among children to hang onto its prized leanest-state title.

"Colorado is one of the healthiest states but has the one of the highest rates of childhood obesity. So if we're going to do something about that, this is a step in the right direction," said one of the bill's sponsors, House Education Chairman Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs.

The American Heart Association is working to assure skeptical Colorado lawmakers that the trans-fat ban wouldn't forbid childhood faves such as pizza and French fries. The bill also wouldn't affect naturally occurring trans-fat, such as that in beef and dairy.

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

A spokeswoman for the state education department, Janelle Asmus, said a department review "found the amount of trans-fat in a school meal to be minimal" but added that the review didn't include items for sale in vending machines and after-school activities such as bake sales.

The Legislature has not estimated how much the change would cost local schools. Supporters insist that schools could serve the same foods, just switch to trans-fat-free shortening and oils. The bill would require no changes to school kitchens or how food is prepared.

Colorado's best-known school nutritionist says the complete trans-fat ban is do-able. Ann Cooper, author of the "Renegade Lunch Lady" blog, is in charge of food service at the Boulder Valley district, thought to be the only public school district in the state that is trans-fat free.

"We don't serve convenience food, we don't serve junk food," Cooper said. "That's where the trans-fat is. You cook from scratch, it's not a problem cutting all the trans-fat."