USDA Proposes Healthy School Snacks Rule

The public is encouraged to comment on a proposed USDA rule that follows up to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

by Dani Yokhna
The comment period on the USDA's proposed
The comment period on the USDA’s proposed “Smart Snacks in School” rule ends April 9, 2013.

Less than a month is left for the public to comment on the USDA’s proposed rule to implement healthy-food-access standards in the nation’s schools. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires the USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools—beyond federally supported school meal programs. The “Smart Snacks in School” proposed rule, published in the Federal Register, is the first step in the process to create national standards. The new proposed standards draw on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, existing voluntary standards already implemented by thousands of U.S. schools, and healthy food and beverage offerings already available in the marketplace.

Highlights of the Smart Snacks in School rule include:

  • Emphasis on wholesome foods.
    The rule promotes the availability of healthy snack foods with whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables or protein foods as their main ingredients.
  • De-emphasis on junk foods.
    The rule ensures that snack food items are lower in fat, sugar and sodium and provide more of the nutrients kids need.
  • Targeted food standards.
    The rule allows variation by age group for certain factors, such as beverage portion size and caffeine content.
  • Flexibility for important food traditions.
    The rule preserves the ability for parents to send in bagged lunches of their choosing or treats for activities, such as birthday parties, holidays and other celebrations, and allows schools to continue traditions, such as occasional fundraisers and bake sales.
  • Reasonable execution of food standards.
    The rule ensures that standards only affect foods that are sold on school campus during the school day. Foods sold an after-school sporting events or other activities will not be subject to these requirements.
  • Flexibility for state and local communities.
    The rule allows significant local and regional autonomy by establishing only minimum requirements for schools. States and schools that have stronger standards than what is being proposed will be able to maintain their own policies.
  • Significant transition period for schools and industry.
    The standards will not go into effect until at least one full school year after public comment is considered and an implementing rule is published to ensure that schools and vendors have adequate time to adapt.

The public is encouraged to review the proposal and to provide comments and information for consideration by USDA. (Click here to read the proposed rule.) The USDA seeks public comment on the proposal through April 9, 2013.

“Parents and teachers work hard to instill healthy eating habits in our kids, and these efforts should be supported when kids walk through the schoolhouse door,” says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Good nutrition lays the groundwork for good health and academic success. 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.”

In early February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report that analyzed state policies for food and beverages served outside the school lunch line, which noted that 39 states already have a state law, regulation or policy in place related to the sale or availability of snack foods and beverages in schools. In many cases, local-level (district and school) policies and practices exceeded state requirements or recommendations. The USDA’s proposal would establish a national baseline of these standards, with the overall goal of improving the health and nutrition of children in the U.S.

These proposed standards are part of a bipartisan package of changes passed by Congress in 2010 designed to ensure that students have healthy options in school. Other parts of that package include updated nutrition standards for federally subsidized school meals that provide children more fruits, vegetables and whole grains; additional funding for schools to support improved meals; and guidance on stronger local-wellness policies.

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Collectively, these policies aim to combat child hunger and obesity and improve child health and nutrition. The proposed Smart Snacks in School rule is a component of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to combat the challenge of childhood obesity.

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service administers America’s nutrition-assistance programs, including the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, the Summer Food Service Program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Together these programs make up the federal nutrition safety net.

Read the Smart Snacks in School proposed rule. » 

Comment on the Smart Snacks in School proposed rule. »


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