A new rule for snack food
Federal rule puts limits on school sales of junk food
By Scott Waldman
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
First they came for the cheeseburger. Now they’re coming for the Doritos. The schoolhouse is increasingly seen as a significant source of empty calories for children. A new federal mandate has made school lunches healthier and full of vegetables, not sugar and salt. But in many school cafeterias, vending machines offer ice cream sandwiches, soda and potato chips that derail the nutritious options.
Now, a new set of rules issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will eliminate the sale of all junk food sold in schools during the day. The ruling is part of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Schools Act that reforms child nutrition standards. It was sponsored by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
“If our children are going to succeed and meet their full potential in the classroom, they need access to healthy meals in the lunchroom,” she said in a statement. “Eliminating junk food from schools and offering healthier snacks is the right thing to do to keep our children healthy and on a path to success.”
The new rules are the first major vending machine nutritional rules in more than 30 years, a time that has seen a major increase in the
variety and availability of snacks. Many U.S. children eat more than half their calories at school. One-third are overweight or obese.
Each year, children consume 400 billion calories of junk food in school, the equivalent of 2 billion candy bars, according to Mission
Readiness, a group of retired generals that supports the more stringent USDA rules. That’s the equivalent of 2 billion candy bars, which is enough to encircle the globe more than six times, the group found. It’s also part of the reason why one in four young people are too overweight to join the military.
The rules pertain to some 50 million children attending more than 100,000 schools that are part of the school lunch program that sets strict federal guidelines to address the epidemic of childhood obesity. Some of the rules include: serving larger portions of fruits and vegetables, offering dark green and deep-orange vegetables and legumes every week, using whole grains in half the grains served and reducing salt by 10 percent. The rules will not be implemented until at least the 2014-15 school year. Two local districts, Voorheesville and Niskayuna, have opted out of that program and a handful of others are considering doing the same, according to the state Education Department.
School vending machines are a source of income for schools because companies pay to have them placed in schools. In Albany, which
voluntarily increased healthier vending machines options years ago, the machines have brought in as much as $35,000 annually to
the district. Under the new rules, the machines can only offer snacks with whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and protein as the main ingredient. Snacks must be lower in saturated fat, sodium and sugar and contain no trans fats. They must have limits of 200 calories per portion. Children may still bring in cupcakes for their birthdays, and bake sales will not be affected by the rule change.
The rules will also apply only during the school day. Schools will be able to sell whatever they want during after-school activities and on weekends. They’re also free to create their own set of stricter rules. The Albany district has already done that and removed vending machines from every elementary and middle school, said Lisa Finkenbinder, school lunch director. She said students can buy healthy snacks in the lunch line and don’t seem to miss junk-food vending machines. With no machine there, students might be inclined to consumer fewer calories.
“The presence is sometimes the prompt to eat,” Finkenbinder said. “If it’s there, it’s tempting.”
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