The clock is ticking on junk foods sold in public schools.
By 2014, every public school in the country will have to swap out Snickers bars, donuts, and sugary drinks with granola bars, fruit cups, and water.
The new “Smart Snacks” standards aim to replace foods high in fat, sugar, and sodium with whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables, and leaner protein.
It is one of the Obama Administration’s many new changes to the school food program under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, an overhaul that is supposed to help slim down the nation’s alarming obese student population.
Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, more than a third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
The USDA is responsible for implementing the new rules. In a press release Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children. Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will support their great efforts.”
For those who love to savor cheese-covered nachos during football games, do not fret. The Friday-night ritual is not ruined. These new junk food rules only apply to foods sold outside of school cafeterias in vending machines and student stores during school hours. Treats sold at after-school events or other fundraising activities are excluded.
Many states have already made most of the required changes on their own. In Missouri, vending machines are turned off an hour before lunch time and remain inoperable until mealtime is over. In California, sodas have been banned for years, greasy potato chips have been replaced by baked chips, and small bags of sliced fruits and veggies are sold by ASB clubs.
“It might seem like a difficult transition and that kids will hate it, but it’s not that big a deal,” Ann Rector, Coordinator for Health Programs at Pasadena Unified School District, said.
Rector thought she would have a riot on her hands when she gave the order to eliminate chocolate milk from the district’s menu.
“We really thought that would be a disaster, but it didn’t even matter,” she said. It turns out, “the kids love white milk and drink it up like crazy.”
And when sodas were pulled from vending machines and replaced with water, Rector says some PTA members and school administrators thought schools would lose out on major fundraising bucks typically set aside for graduation parties or teacher appreciation luncheons. But that has not been the case.
“They think that candy or unhealthy food items are the fastest way to make a lot of money, but they’re learning that there are a lot of other ways to do that.”
Since California implemented more stringent nutrition standards, Rector says student health has improved.
Over the last seven years, approximately 55 percent of the district’s students were either overweight or obese. In the 2012-13 school year, that dropped by roughly 10 points; 45 percent of students were found to be overweight or obese.
Studies have shown that a child who is obese between the ages of 10 and 13 has an 80 percent chance of becoming an obese adult.
That’s why it’s imperative to impart good eating habits at an early age, Rector said.
“Kids are pliable and they will eat good healthy food if you give them the opportunity.”