June 27, 2013
The USDA today released its standards for “competitive foods” sold in schools. Under the rule “Smart Snacks in School,” which is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, foods that are sold outside of the regular school meal will have standards that limit calories, fat, sugar, and sodium for the first time ever.
Standards already regulate the nutritional content of school breakfasts and lunches subsidized by the federal government, but most schools also have vending machines and "á la carte" lunch lines that sell foods. The new standards will cover foods sold in these venues, and any other foods regularly sold at school.
The regulations largely mirror the USDA’s proposal from February. Under the new rule unhealthy snack options such as donuts, fruit snacks and candy bars offered at lunch and in vending machines will no longer be allowed and will be replaced with healthier foods such as nuts, light popcorn and fruit cups. According to the rule, elementary and middle school children can only purchase water, milk and juice. There are additional beverage options for high school students but these beverages must contain no more than 60 calories in a 12-ounce serving.
The standards are seen by health advocates as a critical step in improving students' nutrition. “The release of these standards is historic,” said Kathryn Henderson, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Director of School and Community Initiatives. “In combination with the new school meal regulations, these standards have the potential to impact the health of millions of children nationwide and support, rather than undermine, parental efforts to improve children’s diet. USDA is to be commended for stepping up to address the nutrition crisis in the United States and for protecting the health of children.”
"Thanks to the hard work of the USDA, we are witnessing a dramatic transformation of the school food environment in this country, said Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Rudd Center Acting Director. “Students and parents have been frustrated by the hypocrisy of teaching nutrition in the classroom and then undermining those lessons in the cafeteria and vending machines. Thanks to last year's changes to school meals and today's announcement, our nation's schools will practice what they preach and teach nutrition through action, not just words.”
Many children eat more than half of their daily calories at school. The regulations will cover 50 million children who are part of the federal school lunch program.