The U.S. Department of Agriculture just recently announced a new set of proposals governing the snacks sold in public schools. The new requirements would place greater restrictions on the sale of so- called junk foods and require that vending machines offer food and drink with at least a minimum nutritional content.
Realizing that kids need the occasional snack and beverage, the USDA is not suggesting the elimination of a quick response to hunger pangs, but is rather proposing better, healthier options. The goal is to reduce the levels of sugar, fat, and sodium in snack foods and add a minimum dose of nutrition. Too many of the snacks and beverages currently served in schools are loaded with empty calories, excessive fat, and high levels of salt. They may taste good, but they are contributing to the declining health of students and need to be replaced with better options.
These new school eating standards are mandated by the Healthy, Hunger- Free Kids Act of 2010 and they are intended to improve overall nutrition and reduce the instance of obesity. Statistics show that as many as one- third of students are either overweight or obese and the USDA is convinced that changes in school eating habits are a good step toward reducing the epidemic.
Not all foods consumed at school would be affected by these proposed changes. These proposals would not change breakfasts and lunches. They are aimed strictly at snacks served in vending machines and snack bars. The rules would also not apply to food and beverage served at school celebrations, packed in a lunch box, or sold at after- school sporting events. They apply only to the day- to- day snacks served and consumed on a regular basis.
A large number of U.S. states (39 of them) already have regulations on school snack foods and beverages and local districts often place additional restrictions. These proposed changes by the USDA are not intended to reduce strict standards already in place. Rather, they set a minimum level of standards that local jurisdictions cannot fall below, but are encouraged to exceed, if they deem it necessary.
What do these changes mean to the average parent? Well, it is certainly good news to find that the current snacking options will be improved. Soft drinks will likely be replaced by vitamin water, potato chips replaced by fruit and vegetable options, and candy bars replaced by low fat granola bars. However, these healthier options will likely carry higher price tags, and that means parents will have to cough up a little more cash to cover junior’s daily encounter with the school’s vending machines. Of course, some of the expense may be subsidized, but with improvement comes cost and parents will be expected to absorb at least some of it.
These proposed changes were just announced in the first week of February, 2013. The public now has a 60 day period to comment on the proposals before the changes become law.
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