Sugary drinks and junk food are out, while flavored water with no calories and fruit cups are in. At least that’s the “Smart Snacks in School” rule USDA-promulgated Thursday under the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.
Smart Snacks, according to USDA, are science-based nutritional incentives designed to get kids to choose healthier options, including more whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits and vegetable and leaner protein. Foods high in fat, sugar and sodium will be harder to find in the schools.
With the snack rule, the federal government is opening a second front in its war on childhood and teenage obesity. It has already imposed calorie-cutting guidelines on participants in the National School Lunch Program. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 has been championed by First Lady Michelle Obama. Improving nutrition in schools goes hand-in-hand with the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign, which encourages more physical activity for youths who are more likely to be spending their time on computers than bicycles.
Thousands of schools have already tossed junk food and colas out of their vending machines and retail stores, but now all the estimated 100,000 elementary, middle and high schools that accept assistance from the National School Lunch Program will have until the 2014-15 school year to comply with the new snack rule, published Thursday in the Federal Register.
The rule sets limits for fat, salt and sugar in school snacks. USDA dropped its controversial plan to apply the snack rule to such events as birthday parties, bake sales, and after school sporting and other events.
This is the first time in over 30 years that national snack rule standards for schools have been updated, according to data from the Pew Charitable Trust.
Pew and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are sponsors of the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project, which works on food safety and nutritional value of school foods. According to the project researchers, school snacks add 112 calories a day to the typical elementary school pupil’s diet.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture ‘s Smart Snacks in School rule is an important step for improving kids’ health, setting a minimum nutritional baseline for snacks and beverages sold in schools, said Jessica Donze Black, director of the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project. “Once those guidelines are fully implemented, the options available to students will be healthy ones.”
“Millions of students currently have widespread access to snacks and beverages that are high in sugar, fat, and sales, but limited access to nutritious options such as fruits and vegetables in school stores, snack bars, and vending machines, ” Black added. “With many students consuming up to half of their daily calories at school, these new standards represent the kind of positive changes we need to help reduce obesity rates among children and teens.”
Black said the next step is for districts to implement the standards, using USDA’s rule as a baseline. “Offering nutritious snacks will help to ensure that the healthy choice is the easy choice for all students, ” she said.
The Kids’ Safe Project has also found children and teens gained less weight over three years if they already reside in cities or state where schools already have strong snack policies.
Making healthier options available in schools also has broad public support, work by the two foundations say. Almost all public schools and more than half of the nation’s private schools do participate in the National School Lunch Program.
Under the new USDA rule, snacks must be limited to 200 calories and include increases in protein, whole grains and nutrients.
USDA snack rule drew more than 250,000 comments when it went up for public review. Language that might have applied the rule to parent bake sales that are a common school fund raising tool drew a large amount of responses.© Food Safety News