USDA Guidelines Seek to Curb Unhealthy Snacks in Schools

Explore:  Obesity USDA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is proposing regulations to keep the nation’s students from buying certain snacks from vending machines and at-campus snack bars during the school day. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, aimed at reducing childhood obesity and related diseases, requires the USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools. While the new rules have a list of prohibited snacks, the rules would not prohibit candy sales and other fundraisers to continue during non-school hours and at off-campus events. Furthermore, parents would still be able to pack whatever they choose in their children’s lunch bags and bring treats for special events such as birthdays.

The California Department of Education’s Nutrition Department is currently reviewing the 160-page document with proposed regulations to determine whether the state needs to make any changes to its extensive regulations for “competitive foods” — those sold outside of the regular school meals. The proposed federal rules set a minimum standard, and states and local schools are allowed to have more stringent regulations. In some areas, California has already implemented what the federal rules propose. For example, the federal proposal would eliminate foods with trans fats, which are linked to heart disease, a regulation California put in place in July 2009.

The USDA based its guidelines, in part, on an April 2007 report by the Institute of Medicine, Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools: Leading the Way toward Healthier Youth. However, the USDA is not recommending all of the institute’s guidelines. For example, the institute’s report says sports drinks are appropriate for athletes and others engaged in rigorous physical activity, but not for all students. The USDA’s proposed regulation would make no such distinction, allowing any high school student to purchase the drink. California currently allows the sale of sports drinks in both middle and high schools.

The proposed regulations are available here.

Sirenia Jimenez, Law Clerk

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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