New School Standards Helping To Cut Down On Junk Food
June 27, 2013

New School Standards Helping To Cut Down On Junk Food

Lee Rannals for -- Your Universe Online

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced new "Smart Snacks in School" standards that will make school-prepared lunches and vending machines include some healthier options.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this new standard will ensure that junk food isn't the only option for students during the school day.

"Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children," said Secretary Vilsack. "Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will support their great efforts."

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires the USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools. The government agency published its new nutrition standards entitled "Smart Snacks in School" in the Federal Register to reflect 250,000 comments it has received on the proposal earlier this year.

According to the USDA, about 70,000 submissions addressed health concerns affecting children and adolescents. A number of these submissions referenced the nation's growing obesity epidemic among children and adolescents. The USDA said that more than 80 percent of parents are concerned about childhood obesity, and more than 50 percent are very concerned.

Smart Snacks in School balances science-based nutrition guidelines with practical and flexible solutions to help curb childhood obesity and junk food at schools. The USDA said it was drawing on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and existing voluntary standards already implemented by thousands of schools, as well as healthy food and beverage offerings already available.

The standards will also have an effect on lunches, such as requiring more whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and leaner protein. Food items available are lower in fat, sugar and sodium and provide more of the nutrients kids need.

The USDA said food and beverage companies will have an entire school year to make the necessary changes. It added that it would provide training and technical assistance every step of the way.

"USDA is focused on improving childhood nutrition and empowering families to make healthier food choices by providing science-based information and advice, while expanding the availability of healthy food," the agency said. "Collectively these policies and actions will help combat child hunger and obesity and improve the health and nutrition of the nation's children; a top priority for the Obama Administration."

The USDA pointed out that the standard announced is an important component of First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign to fight childhood obesity. Under this plan, the First Lady asks principals, teachers and parents to "make schools healthier places to learn by providing quality nutrition, integrating physical activity during the day and teaching children about the importance of embracing a healthy, active lifestyle."

The First Lady's campaign asks schools to follow these five steps: create a school health advisory council; join the healthier US schools challenge; set a good example by making the school a healthy workplace; incorporate nutrition education into the day; and plant a garden.

Programs and initiatives to fight childhood obesity have been on the rise the past few years, and research shows they are working. According to a study released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in December, the obesity epidemic has plateaued a bit and is starting to reverse. The CDC found that obesity in children aged 2- to 4-years old declined to 14.9 percent in 2010, down from 15.2 percent in 2003.