03/08/2013 - For the first time in more than three decades, the government has proposed new guidelines for snack foods sold in schools that will encourage more fruit and more low-fat and whole-grain items while limiting sugary drinks.
The proposal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture sets minimum requirements for calories and fats, but also allows parents to send treats to school for birthday and holiday parties and allows schools to sell sweets for fundraisers. After a comment period, the new guidelines would take effect for the 2014-15 school year. Similar guidelines for school cafeterias were put in place this school year.
"Good nutrition lays the groundwork for good health and academic success," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines and snack bars will complement the gains made with the new, healthy standards for school breakfast and lunch so the healthy choice is the easy choice for our kids."
Enacting the new guidelines has been the focus of the Kids' Safe & Healthful Foods Project, a joint initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Last year, a project report, Out of Balance: A Look at Snack Foods in Secondary Schools across the States, found that most of the nation's secondary schools do not sell fruits or vegetables in their stores, snack bars, and vending machines. Although many schools have reduced the availability of candy, fatty chips, and sugary drinks, the report found that this progress had stalled.
Last spring, a project survey showed that 80 percent of parents favor national standards that would limit calories, fat, and sodium in snack and a la carte foods sold in schools and encourage young people to eat fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy items.
"The new rules are the kind of positive change we need to help reduce obesity rates among children and teens, which are now more than triple what they were four decades ago," project director Jessica Donze Black said after the snack rules were announced. "With many students consuming up to half of their daily calories at school, these guidelines could make a real difference in the health of our nation's kids."
To learn more about the project, go to healthyschoolfoodsnow.org.