USDA New School Snack Guidelines Restrict Items Sold In Vending Machines

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools -- beyond the federally-supported school meals programs. The "Smart Snacks in School" proposed rule, to be published soon in the Federal Register, is the first step in the process to create national standards. The new proposed standards draw on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, existing voluntary standards already implemented by thousands of schools around the country, and healthy food and beverage offerings already available in the marketplace in an effort to standardize requirements nationally.

The requirement gives a limit for sodium, total sugar and calories on snack items.

Snack items shall contain ≤200 milligrams of sodium.

For total sugar levels the proposal includes two alternatives: one is ≤35 percent of calories and the other is ≤35 percent of weight. Exemptions are provided for fruits and vegetables packed in juice or extra-light syrup and for certain yogurts.

Snack items have a limit on calories of ≤200 calories per portion.

For beverages, the proposal allows schools to sell water and low-fat or fat free milk and 100 percent fruit/vegetable juice. The portion size varies by student ages. Elementary schools may sell up to 8-ounce portions. Middle schools and high schools may sell up to 12-ounce portions.

The proposal offers additional beverage options in high schools. These include 20 ounce servings or less for calorie-free, flavored and/or unflavored carbonated water and other calorie-free beverages.

"Parents and teachers work hard to instill healthy eating habits in our kids, and these efforts should be supported when kids walk through the schoolhouse door," said agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack, in a prepared statement, about the proposed rule. "Good nutrition lays the groundwork for good health and academic success. 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."

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report that analyzed state policies for food and beverages served outside the school lunch line which noted that 39 states already have a state law, regulation or policy in place related to the sale or availability of snack foods and beverages in schools. In many cases, local level (district and school) policies and practices exceeded state requirements or recommendations. USDA's proposal would establish a national baseline of these standards, with the overall goal of improving the health and nutrition of our kids.

These proposed standards are part of a bi-partisan package of changes passed by Congress in 2010 designed to ensure that students have healthy options in school. Other parts of that package include updated nutrition standards for federally-subsidized school meals that provide children more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; additional funding for schools to support improved meals; and guidance on stronger local wellness policies.

The full requirements can be viewed at http://www.fns.usda.gov/cga/020113-snacks.pdf.

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