The U.S. Department of Agriculture is doing away with sales of fatty, sugary and salty snacks to students. The agency last week released “Smart Snacks in School” standards that limit what kind of snack foods and drinks can be sold through cafeteria vendors, vending machines and student stores. The regulations — which go into effect July 1, 2014 — are a follow-up to last year’s changes to the National School Lunch Program and part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
For vendors, such as Subway at Juneau-Douglas High School, the new rules require entree items to have fewer than 350 calories and no trans fat. Vending machines will have to provide items that have fewer than 200 calories, no trans fat and less than 35 percent sugar by weight. Elementary and middle school students will be limited to unflavored water, juices and milk. Chocolate milk will need to be nonfat.
Caffeinated beverages will still be an option for high school students. The Food and Drug Administration has not yet set a daily caffeine limit for children, but it is in the process of investigating the effect of caffeine on children and adolescents. Stricter guidelines on coffee and energy drinks for high school students could come in the next few years. In the meantime, schools administrators have the option to implement stricter standards.
The new rules do not affect students who bring a lunch from home and classrooms will still be able to celebrate birthdays and other special events with sweets such as cake and ice cream. The new rules apply only to food and drink sold and provided at the school. Exemptions can be made for school-sponsored fundraisers, such as bake sales.
Jo Dawson is the state administrator for the Alaska Child Nutrition Programs under the Department of Education. Dawson said that the standards help schools rethink the choices they’re offering children.
“I think these are really great changes,” Dawson said. “Not to say that everyone is going to be thrilled with them, but I think it’s a really important step toward raising healthier Alaskan children.”
Karol Fink, an obesity prevention and control program manager with the Department of Health and Human Services, is also supportive of the changes.
“I think one of the biggest plusses is that the USDA finally made a change that reflects current nutritional science,” Fink said. “There are a few things I would have gone further with but with balancing the public’s wants and nutritional facts, I think they did a really good job finding that balance.”
Fink said that the overall changes to student nutrition will benefit a lot of Alaska’s youth.
“We do know that for many children it’s a primary source of their nutrition. From a public health perspective, we see it as a major safety net for kids,” Fink said. “Those kids can come to school and be guaranteed a very nutritious meal. That’s important.”
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