WASHINGTON — Goodbye, candy bars and sugary cookies. Hello, baked chips and diet pop.
The Obama administration on Friday released its long-awaited nutritional guidelines for snack foods sold in schools, an effort to combat the expanding waistlines of school-age children.
They would apply to a la carte lines in school cafeterias, vending machines, snack bars and any other food sold regularly on campus. They wouldn't apply to fundraisers, after-school concession stands, class parties or foods brought from home.
Most every food sold in school would be subject to fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits. Snack foods would have to be under 200 calories and have some nutritional value. Drinks would be limited to 12-ounce portions in high schools and middle schools and 8-ounce portions in elementary schools.
Some examples of what could be in and out under the rules, provided the items meet or don't meet all of the requirements:
» Baked potato chips
» Granola bars
» Cereal bars
» Trail mix
» Dried fruits
» Fruit cups
» Whole grain-rich muffins
» 100 percent juice drinks
» Diet pop (high schools)
» Flavored water (high schools)
» Lower-calorie sports drinks (high schools)
» Unsweetened or diet iced teas (high schools)
» 100 percent frozen juice on a stick
» Baked lower-fat french fries
» Healthier pizzas with whole grain crust
» Lean hamburgers with whole wheat buns
» Snack cakes
» Most cookies
» High-calorie pop
» High-calorie sports drinks
» Juice drinks that are not 100 percent juice
» Most ice cream and ice cream treats
» Greasy pizza and other fried, high-fat foods in the lunchroom
— The Associated Press
The guidelines come a year after the administration made the first changes to the $11 billion government-subsidized school meal program in more than three decades, adding more fruits and green vegetables to breakfasts and lunches and reducing the amount of salt and fat in meals.
The guidelines, which set minimum requirements for calories and fats allowed, encourage schools to offer low-fat and whole-grain snack foods or fruits in cafeteria a la carte lines and in vending machines around campus and to limit the availability of sugary drinks.
They leave room for parents to send treats to school for activities such as birthdays and holiday parties and will allow schools to sell sweets for fundraisers and after-school sporting events. School districts would have the flexibility to set tougher standards than the federal guidelines.
“Parents and teachers work hard to instill healthy eating habits in our kids, and these efforts shouldn't be undermined when kids walk through the schoolhouse door,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “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.”
The public will have 60 days to comment on the rules before they are finalized for the next school year.
Efforts to restrict the food that schoolchildren eat outside the lunchroom had met resistance from some schools and the snack-food industry. Representatives of those industries worried that many of their products, such as baked potato chips, which they say are a healthier alternative to fried snacks, would be banned. Schools worried that overly restrictive rules would ban candy sold for school fundraisers that help pay for sports, band uniforms and field trips.
On Friday, representatives from the snack-food and beverage industries said they generally agreed with the guidelines.
“We anticipated that there would be significant changes to the way snack foods are sold in schools, and this is pretty much what we expected,” said James A. McCarthy, president of the Snack Food Association in Arlington, Va. “The rules allows some flexibility on snack foods.”
School officials also expressed their support for the rules.
“I don't think it's going to be difficult for schools to implement,” said Jessica Shelly, director of food services at the Cincinnati Public School System. “I think most schools are already doing 90 percent of what's in the guidelines.”
Nutrition experts called the rules an important step in ensuring that all foods, including snacks, meet some minimum nutritional standards. The experts said school vending machines stocked with potato chips, cookies and sugary soft drinks have contributed to the childhood obesity rate, which has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in every five children is obese.
Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, has been working for two decades to take junk foods out of schools. He called the availability of unhealthy foods around school campuses a “loophole” that undermines the taxpayer money that helps pay for the healthier subsidized lunches. “USDA's proposed nutrition standards are a critical step in closing that loophole and in ensuring that our schools are places that nurture not just the minds of American children but their bodies as well,” Harkin said.
Jessica Donze Black, director of the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, said the guidelines would go a long way in helping to reduce those obesity rates.
“With many students consuming up to half their daily calories at school, these guidelines could make a real difference in the health of our nation's kids.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press and the New York Times.