A parent-teacher group and the American Dietetic Association said on Tuesday that Congress can fight the epidemic of childhood obesity by getting “junk” food out of school stores, as well as snack machines, Reuters reported.
Both groups are pushing for new federal rules that would require all food sold in schools to adhere to certain nutritional standards similar to school lunches.
They said that high-fat, high-sugar or high-calorie “competitive” foods now could be sold anytime outside of school cafeterias.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that obesity increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and other chronic illnesses.
It also reported that roughly 17 percent of school-age children are obese””triple the rate in 1980.
Byron Garrett of the National Parent Teacher Association said during a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on “reforming nutrition for kids in school” that the best interests of our children demand that the nutrition standards be modernized.
The dietitian group stated that national standards were needed so all children “have equal opportunity to a healthy school environment.”
The year should see the renewal of U.S. child nutrition programs like school lunch and the Women, Infants and Children feeding program, which cost some $21 billion annually.
Tom Harkin, an Agriculture Committee chairman, said school meals comply for the most part with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which encourage exercise and more consumption of fruits and vegetables.
However, Harkin said sugary drinks, candy and high-fat snacks undermine the investment in good food.
“On an average day, only 62 percent of American kids who could do so eat the federally sponsored lunch,” he added.
While Sens Richard Lugar and Amy Klobuchar spoke in favor of national standards during the hearing, others in Congress like Sen. Mike Johanns said he disliked heavy-handed regulation and Sen. Saxby Chambliss said physical exercise should be part of the school day.
But some schools rely on snack sales to help cover costs, according to Reginald Felton of the National School Boards Association.
He noted that students would simply buy snack food outside of school if it were unavailable inside the building.
“There has been a 58 percent decrease in beverage calories shipped to schools under a 2006 voluntary guideline,” said Susan Neely of the American Beverage Association, who suggested the guideline should become mandatory.
An update of school nutrition standards has even received the support of Mars Snackfood US.
The company said it supported and described the work of the nonprofit Alliance for a Healthier Generation to limit fat and sugar content in snack foods.
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