On Friday, the Obama administration released its long-awaited nutritional guidelines for snack foods and meals sold in schools, as part of First Lady Michele Obama's effort to fight childhood obesity in America.
The guidelines add more fruits and vegetables while reducing salt, fat, sugar and calories in school meals. They also attempt to put healthier snacks in vending machines, such as whole grain muffins and less sugary drinks.
“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,” said agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack 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,” he added.
The public will have 60 days to comment on the new nutritional guidelines before they are finalized for the 2014-15 school year.
Efforts to restrict the food that schoolchildren eat outside the lunchroom had met resistance from some schools and the snack-food industry, which has expressed concern that some of their healthier products would be banned, such as baked, not fried potato chips. Schools have also stated concerns that placing restrictions on what foods can be sold at schools may negatively impact fund-raising activities like selling candy to help students pay for various items, including field trips, sports and band uniforms.
An estimated $2.3 billion in snack foods and beverages are sold annually in schools nationwide, according to a study from the National Academy of Sciences. Nevertheless, there is support for the new 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. “The rules allow some flexibility on snack foods.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in every five children is obese.
“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,” said Jessica Donze Black, director of the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project in Washington.