USDA launches “Smart Snacks in Schools” nutrition standards
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched its “Smart Snacks in Schools” nutrition standards, which will affect the kind of foods allowed to be sold in vending machines or other a la carte settings in US schools.
In line with the USDA’s requirements for school lunches and breakfasts, the nutrition standards for snack options in schools require foods that are lower in fat, sugar and sodium, and a larger selection of foods containing whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and lean protein.
Highlights of the “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards include:
- Like the new school meal standards, the snack food standards require “healthier” foods, more whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and leaner protein.
- Food items should be lower in fat, sugar, and sodium and “provide more of the nutrients kids need”.
- Targeted standards to allow variation by age group for factors such as portion size and caffeine content.
- The standards have some “flexibility”, to allow for traditions such as parents sending their children to school with homemade lunches or treats for activities such as birthday parties, holidays, and other celebrations; and allowing schools to continue traditions like fundraisers and bake sales.
- Schools and food and beverage companies will have an entire school year to make the necessary changes, and USDA will offer training and technical assistance every step of the way.
- The standards only affect foods that are sold on school campus during the school day. Foods sold at afterschool sporting events or other activities will not be subject to these requirements.
- Some flexibility for state and local communities to allow for significant local and regional autonomy by only establishing minimum requirements for schools. States and schools that have stronger standards than what is being proposed will be able to maintain their own policies.
The USDA said that “collectively these policies and actions will help combat child hunger and obesity and improve the health and nutrition of the nation’s children”. The requirements are part of US First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative to challenge childhood obesity.
“Many parents are working hard every day to make sure they provide healthy, balanced meals and snacks to their kids,” Michelle Obama said. “Unfortunately, we don’t always have control over the snacks our kids have access to when they’re away from home. That’s why, as a mum myself, I am so excited that schools will now be offering healthier choices to students and reinforcing the work we do at home to help our kids stay healthy,” she said.
The USDA’s strategy has been welcomed by US health organisations.
“Pediatricians commend USDA for taking a step forward today to make sure that all foods and beverages sold in schools, including snacks, are healthy for children,” Thomas K. McInerny, President of American Academy of Pediatrics said. “Many children eat up to half of their daily calories at school. Pediatricians would like to see those calories come from healthy foods that help children thrive. Good nutrition is critical to children’s health, development, and ability to learn and grow,” he said.