SPRINGFIELD — Illinois is on its way to being the second state to ban “bad” cholesterol in restaurants and schools.

By Mary J. Cristobal

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois is on its way to being the second state to ban “bad” cholesterol in restaurants and schools.

The state House this week passed a measure on a 73-43 vote to ban trans fat in restaurants and school vending machines by 2013, and in school cafeterias by 2016.

“Banning trans fats in Illinois is a major step to showing that Illinois is serious about improving the health for its citizens,” said bill sponsor State Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago.

But other lawmakers said the measure allows for too much government interference in people’s lives.

State Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Sycamore, said the government needs to let people make their own choices about what they eat and what purveyors serve.

“I think we’ve gone too far in trying to regulate the diet and the food that we serve in public places, especially in schools,” Pritchard said. “To do this kind of legislation is overreaching where government is going to direct every part of our life.”

Trans fat can be found in processed food — such as crackers, candies, cookies, other snacks, and fried and baked goods — and it also increases LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Ford said because trans fat is man-made, lawmaker “come to Springfield to make laws to improve the quality of life for citizens.”

California in 2008 became the first state to ban trans fats as the nation realized Americans — especially children — were headed toward obesity. A nationwide health campaign geared toward children, Let’s Move!, has been led full speed by first lady Michelle Obama.

Illinois school districts understand the growing trend toward healthy eating, said Diane Rutledge, executive director of the Springfield-based Large Unit District Association, an association of K-12 schools superintendents.

Rutledge said the legislation shows a trickling down of federal health guidelines to the states.

She said the two-year time frame to get rid of the trans-fat snacks sold in vending machines offers enough time to work with vendors on substitutions.

“It can’t be an overnight change, there has to be a timeline,” she said.

There is no dollar figure available yet on what the schools can save or might have to spend to change their menus to accommodate the trans fat ban.

Pritchard, a former school board member, said promoting exercise is better than regulating what people can eat.

“Look at our schools for example where we’ve regulated what the menu could be in the cafeteria and what it could be in the vending machines, and yet that doesn’t prevent students from being overweight,” Pritchard said.

Under House Bill 1600, the state’s Department of Public Health would be responsible for administering and enforcing the trans fat ban in restaurants and schools.

The department is continuing to review the plan and any changes, according to DPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold.

The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration.

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