There's no doubt that, as a nation, we are getting fatter with every passing day. Where the fault lies is the subject of much finger-pointing, and in New Jersey, the legislature is waggling an angry index finger at the snack and beverage industry. Firms such as Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) and PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP) have to be hoping for a minimum of fallout. At a time when cases aren't exactly flying off the shelves, along comes a bill that would ban the most sugary of foods from schools.

In a debate that's likely to be repeated in boardrooms and legislatures across the country, members of the New Jersey Assembly's education committee unanimously endorsed a plan to keep subject foods out of the lunch line and vending machines -- at least until half an hour after school has ended. The hope is that fewer unnecessary calories will help curb the growing obesity problem, which already affects 15% of American schoolchildren. Barbara McConnell, a Coca-Cola and industry lobbyist, told the committee that the real problem is a lack of exercise, and she rolled out the old economic scare, arguing that firms such as hers -- along with others such as Wrigley (NYSE:WWY) and Hershey (NYSE:HSY) -- save taxpayers money by providing products that benefit schools through a cut on vending sales.

Of course, both sides are telling a version of the truth. Yes, exercise is important, but every Coke or Pepsi demands a 22-minute jog to burn off. Who really thinks that will happen? Let's face it, the rug rats simply don't need an extra few hundred calories' worth of carbonated corn syrup and candy. And how much taxpayer money is saved when the medical bills come home to roost in later life?

While this could shape up to be an ugly-looking fight, shareholders probably don't have much to fear here. In addition to loopholes such as the one that allows "electrolyte replacement beverages" -- popular sports drinks -- there is still plenty of opportunity for firms to sell to their youngest consumers outside of school. I'd say the bigger risk is bad PR from fighting the process. Arguments like McConnell's spurious "Look at orange juice and at milk. It's got sugar," aren't likely to win the industry too many friends among parents. And evidence from the healthy lifestyle efforts at McDonald's proves that it can pay to get off the defensive and hype health.

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Seth Jayson loves to scarf junk food but doesn't think kids have a right to it. At the time of publication, he had no position in any firm mentioned.