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Bucking industry pressure and risking some name calling, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday signed bills to strictly limit sales of sodas, candy and other junk food in California schools.

His action, taken at his invitation-only Summit on Health, Nutrition and Obesity at Cal Expo in Sacramento, came along with a flurry of initiatives launched by private companies, health plans, fitness centers and others to make healthier food choices more accessible and encourage the state's increasingly sedentary population to get moving.

OAS_AD('Button20'); "California is facing an obesity epidemic," the governor told the crowd. "And worst of all, more and more children become part of the problem. We have to turn this ship around. We have to put California on the path to good health."

The governor was supported by a smattering of celebrities, including Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, television psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw, Subway weight loss pitchman Jared Fogle, heart health and dietary researcher and author Dr. Dean Ornish, and renowned chef Alice Waters, who has introduced lunch as part of the academic curriculum in the Berkeley Unified School District.

First lady Maria Shriver was a key organizer of the summit, personally inviting many of the executives to participate and pushing them to use the opportunity to launch reforms in their product development, placement and marketing.

The summit was sponsored with an estimated $500,000 donation from the California Endowment, a health advocacy organization.

But the day belonged to Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Whittier, whose legislative efforts to get sodas and junk food out of all public schools - which take effect in July 2007 - began in 1998.

"I didn't even get a hearing on the bill," she said. "They said, 'Interesting concept. Wacky idea.' "

At the time, she was mocked in an Orange County Register political cartoon, depicted as a junk-food-eating pig who wanted to impose food restrictions on children. She said one legislative colleague taunted her with the slogan: "Eat a burrito. Go to jail."

When Schwarzenegger told her he wanted to sponsor her bills, she said she was dubious. "We are going to have to say 'no' to some of your friends,' " she recalled telling the governor. "He said, 'You want to go to the mountain, we'll follow you.' "

Escutia said lobbyists for the soda industry tried and failed to make last-minute changes to the soda bill that would have allowed sales of diet sodas in school vending machines, school stores and on-campus school events.

As it turned out, soda makers invited to the summit declined to participate, including executives from Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

"We are disappointed that the state of California has decided to implement legislation that will provide no nutrition education while curtailing the authority of local school districts to decide what foods and beverages should be available to students," said Steve Arthur, a lobbyist for the Grocery Manufacturers Association in a statement issued after the event.

The Center for Individual Freedom, a nonprofit activist group funded in part by corporate interests, was stronger in its criticism, calling the governor a "nutrition nanny."

"The food and beverage industries are not the enemy of public schools," said CFIF President Jeff Mazzella in a statement. "Blaming them for the failure of parents and schools to teach children how to eat and drink all foods in moderation avoids the problem rather than solves it."

Nevertheless, the CEOs from a handful of major food companies - including Kraft Foods, 7-Eleven Inc. and Safeway - used the summit forum to announce several major changes to the way they produce and market food.

Kraft, for example, is introducing 100 percent whole grain cookies and crackers with no trans fats, as well as changing its Web site marketing that targeted children.

7-Eleven CEO James W. Keyes, standing in front of a table laden with pre-packaged sushi and low-fat sandwiches, said his company will be rolling out the new, healthier products in its California convenience stores.

"This isn't all about social responsibility," he said. "Consumers are changing. 'Choices' is the action word here."

Many summit participants were enthusiastic about the potential for private industry and government to work together and saw the event as a good first step.

After meeting in closed-door brainstorming sessions, participants called for mandatory physical education in schools, curbs on junk food advertising to children, putting supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods and building neighborhoods that encourage physical activity.

Dr. Francine Kaufman, president of the Diabetes Association, a pediatric endocrinologist and author of "Diabesity," acknowledged that for some children, already obese and suffering from related diseases, such changes will not come soon enough.

"Let's start thinking anew," she said. "Let's imagine the unborn Californians. We may be a little too late for some, but we have to start at what's to come."

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