At His Fitness Fair, Gov. Pushes for Fitter Fare

Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a longtime advocate of healthier food in schools, said Sunday that all “junk food” in vending machines on California campuses should be replaced with nutritious snacks such as fresh vegetables.

“I think we should use our vending machines in the schools -- fill them with good food, with fresh vegetables, with milk and products that are really healthy for the body,” said Schwarzenegger, speaking at the annual fitness exhibition here that bears his name.

The governor’s comments followed a question about what should be done to fight child obesity, which has become national preoccupation. Schwarzenegger told attendees that California was introducing legislation to ban all junk food in schools. His aides later clarified, saying the governor is working on legislation that would substitute milk and juice for sugary soft drinks in school vending machines and introduce more fresh fruits and vegetables.


His comments were welcomed by state Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier), who said she had been pushing for three years -- unsuccessfully -- for legislation to rid school vending machines of sodas.

Escutia has written another bill that would set nutritional standards for foods served in K-12, including the contents of vending machines.

“It’s fantastic news,” she said of Schwarzenegger’s comments. “The governor clearly understands the link between health and academic accomplishment.”

Still, the governor’s aides said changing current practices would not be easy.

Some schools use vending machines as a fundraising vehicle. It is also difficult to come up with a definition of “junk food” -- a classification that depends on such factors as saturated fat, said a gubernatorial aide.

Earlier this year, Schwarzenegger criticized a bill requiring schools to label junk food, rather than ban it, as not going far enough. He spoke Sunday of the broader need for parents to pay attention to what children eat -- saying they shouldn’t feed them 1,000-calorie cheeseburgers just to avoid an argument.

“I know it’s easy to go in that direction,” he said. “I know when I come home I don’t want to fight at home with my kids about what they should eat. Because there are already fights about their homework and about reading and math.

“You’ve got to make an effort. What you give a child or what you put in their body is exactly what we become. So the more garbage you put in there, the more you’re going to look like a garbage disposal.”

At Arnold Fitness Weekend here, Schwarzenegger handed out awards, signed autographs and advised aspiring bodybuilders.

Are you an advocate of “donkey calf raises?” a man asked Schwarzenegger. He was one of a couple of hundred people who paid $50 to attend a “training seminar” with the bodybuilding legend.

The governor didn’t equivocate.

“In that bent-over position, it stretches the calves,” said Schwarzenegger, standing at the lectern with his friend and erstwhile competitor, Franco Columbu. “Then you have someone sitting on your lower back -- or two or three people -- and it really is a direct weight over the calves.... It’s the best exercise for the calves, without any doubt.”

On the matter of whether he might run for president -- assuming the Constitution is amended to give foreign-born citizens that right -- the governor was less clear.

“I’m not saying, ‘No, I’m not interested in it.’ But I’m not concentrating on that,” he said. “Because there’s so much work ahead of me that has to be done in California. Then I can think about the next step.”

In previous interviews, the governor has given a somewhat different answer. Last month on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos, Schwarzenegger said: “I mean, I have never thought about running for president, and this is not my vision.”

Schwarzenegger over the weekend plunged back into the bodybuilding world -- where he remains an icon of physical perfection -- leaving behind the partisan squabbles over his political agenda. The centerpiece of the three-day event was the bodybuilding competition, which came amid ongoing revelations that baseball players, track stars and other athletes have taken steroids.

A sixth-grade girl asked Schwarzenegger if it was true that he did not regret taking steroids in his competitive days -- something she said she and her classmates had read.

“We did take steroids, but when we took it, it was a new thing that came on the market. We were not aware of all the side effects it could potentially cause,” Schwarzenegger said. “And we were not aware where it’s going to go, from steroids to growth hormones, and really be very destructive for the bodies.”

Now, he told her, “we have to do everything we can today” to prevent steroid use.

In an interview Saturday, Schwarzenegger said he would do more to rid bodybuilding of drugs. He is executive editor of two magazines, Muscle & Fitness and Flex. In Flex’s April issue -- distributed at the exhibition -- there is a full-page photo of Milos Sarcev, a bodybuilder who was indicted on a charge of importing steroids. He has pleaded innocent and is awaiting trial.

Schwarzenegger said he wanted his magazines to promote a stronger anti-drug message. At least one attendee said he would welcome such a stance.

“It’s undermining sports, and he’s got to be more vocal,” said John Millen, 47, of Dublin, Ohio, as he passed Schwarzenegger’s booth. “He has the spotlight to set a strong moral tone on this, and he’s passing.”

The exhibition drew about 100,000 spectators and 15,000 athletes. General admission was $10. Schwarzenegger, who attends annually, has an unspecified financial interest in the event. The bill for the more than 15 aides and security staff Schwarzenegger brought with him will be paid through a combination of campaign and taxpayer funds, according to his press secretary, Margita Thompson.

Security wasn’t a problem, though there was a moment during the cheerleading competition when elementary schoolgirls spontaneously rushed the governor, trying to give him a hug. Plainclothes police formed a wedge and plowed through the hall so the governor could sign autographs and get his photograph taken with sponsors.

Women sat on men’s shoulders to snap pictures. Crowds were five rows deep as Schwarzenegger swept past booths selling protein shakes, fitness equipment and dietary supplements.

At one booth, a shirtless man waited with arms outstretched as a vendor sprayed him with tanning solution. At another, a woman in bicycle shorts stood while someone measured her body fat with calipers.

For Schwarzenegger, the weekend was a reunion of sorts. Sitting behind the booths were ex-bodybuilders and friends whom he’d defeated in past competitions.

Lou Ferrigno, featured in the 1970s documentary “Pumping Iron,” sat at a booth signing T-shirts that were selling for $25. Frank Zane, a former Mr. Olympia who trained with Schwarzenegger in the early ‘70s, said Schwarzenegger “always wanted” to jump into politics.

Next to the main stage was the Schwarzenegger booth. For sale was all manner of Schwarzenegger kitsch: pewter sculptures of the seven-time Mr. Olympia in a double bicep pose ($75), a coffee mug bearing a picture of the governor ($54), a humidor with his signature ($269) and cufflinks bearing the California state seal ($54).

Proceeds were to go to the governor’s “All-Stars” charity, which supports after-school programs.