(Photo credit PAUL J.RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY
Out with the candy bars, high-fat chips, full-calorie sodas and sugary pastries sold in school a la carte lines, vending machines and snack bars during the school day.
Today, the government released its proposed standards for "competitive foods," the name given to foods that are not part of the regular school meals. The standards set limits for calories, fat, sugar and sodium.
The proposed rules do not apply to foods sold at after-school fundraisers, bake sales or concession stands at sporting events and other after-school activities. They also don't affect the foods kids bring in their lunches or what's served at birthday parties, holidays and other celebrations at school.
"Good nutrition lays the groundwork for good health and academic success," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. Updated nutrition guidelines for school lunch and breakfast went into effect this school year.
The latest proposals, which are now open for public comment, say snack items sold in schools must have no more than 200 calories per portion.
Under the proposed standards, all competitive foods must:
- Be either a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, a protein food, a whole-grain-rich grain product or a combination food that contains at least ¼ cup of fruit or vegetable. Or they must contain 10% of a nutrient that's a public health concern such as calcium, potassium, vitamin D or fiber.
- Meet requirements for sugar, fat and saturated fat. They can contain no trans fat. Some exceptions will be allowed such as for reduced-fat cheese, nuts and nut butters.
- There are special exemptions being made for entrees and side dishes sold in the a la carte lines that are also part of the school meal. For instance, a food such as a hamburger might be able to be sold in the a la carte line on the same day it's served on the lunch line or for up to four days following.
In practical terms, these proposals mean that schools won't be able to sell high-fat chips but might sell baked chips or granola bars. They won't be offering large high-calorie pastries or cookies or regular sodas.
When it comes to beverages, all schools may sell water; unflavored low-fat milk; flavored or unflavored fat-free milk and soy alternatives; 100% fruit or vegetable juice. Portion sizes of milk and juice vary by the age of students.
There are additional beverage options for high school students: Calorie-free, flavored and/or unflavored carbonated water and other lower or calorie-free beverages.
The nutritional quality of food served at schools has been hotly debated for years because a third of U.S. kids are overweight or obese. Extra pounds put kids at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other health problems.
The 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to update nutrition standards for all food served in schools.
The rules for competitive foods "are very sensible," says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "They look very similar to what many school districts, some states and even the food industry have agreed to, but these rules will address virtually all schools in the country."
The changes along with improvements that have already been made in school meals "means that at long last all school foods will need to meet healthy nutrition standards," Wootan says.
School Nutrition Association President Sandra Ford says the group "supports the goal of ensuring that all foods and beverages sold in schools are healthy options for students."
However, the group's members are still facing the "challenge" of implementing the updated standards for healthy lunches and soon will be working on the updated standards for school breakfast, she says.
Schools do not have to implement the rules for competitive foods until a year after the final rules are passed, which means the earliest this will be put into effect is the 2014-15 school year.
Many of the proposed standards are based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine.
A report out earlier this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 39 states already have a state law, regulation or policy on the sale or availability of snack foods and beverages in schools.