Before you criticize a proposed federal rule for healthier snacks in schools, consider this statistic about youth obesity: Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
The Smart Snacks in School rule proposal, announced Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, would establish nutritional standards for all foods sold in school. It goes a step beyond current regulations for federally-supported school meals under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
“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," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release.
Although the smart snacks rule would provide healthier options for “empty calorie” snacks, it would not limit parents’ ability to send them in sack lunches for their children. Sporting event concessions after school would not be affected, and schools could continue bake sales and fund-raisers.
States and schools that already have stronger standards than the proposed rule could maintain their own policies. The rule would not go into effect earlier than at least one year after public comment and a rule is adopted and published.
As a certified fitness trainer, I have found that the fastest way to a better physique is exercise combined with the reduction of the big three nutritional saboteurs: excessive fat, salt and sugar. The sooner kids learn that, the better off they’ll be in establishing healthy habits. There’s nothing wrong with “letting kids be kids” every once and a while to have a decadent sweet treat. The problem occurs when excessive fat, salt or sugar become a staple in their diets.
The United States is among the heaviest industrialized nations in the world. According to federal statistics, almost two in three Americans are overweight and one in three is obese. Last September, New York City voted to ban sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces as a response to obesity. Last month, Coca-Cola released an ad stating that controlling obesity was a shared responsibility. In the last few weeks, Taco Bell faced criticism for an ad that appeared to criticize the notion of bringing veggies to a party over fast food.
There are several threats facing children, including the recent focus on gun violence on youth and sexual abuse of children by adults. The threat that may not be as sensational is the looming concern of setting a generation of youth on a path of unhealthy eating habits and resulting ailments of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
I applaud the USDA for keeping nutrition in school on the table for debate. Certainly parents have the right to dictate the food choices of the children. Those children, however, have the right to a chance for a long, healthy life by having the right food choices be placed in front of them long before they have the power to make those choices independent of their parents.