Federal proposal aims to rid schools of high-calorie snacks

The latest school food proposal announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture takes aim at snacks sold in vending machines to tackle the obesity epidemic that affects as much as one-third of American children and teens.

The standards that the USDA has proposed would lower salt, fat and sugar found in many school snacks now and replace them with fruits, vegetables and whole grains to provide healthier choices in schools. Any food sold in school vending machines or other areas outside the lunch line would be limited to 200 calories.

“If a student buys a snack from a vending machine or a slice of pizza from the a la carte line, it should be healthy,” Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, head of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, told Reuters Health. “These proposed nutrition standards, the first update in more than 30 years, are long overdue and badly needed.”

If approved as permanent USDA regulations, the new food rules would apply to about 50 million youngsters who attend more than 100,000 schools nationwide that participate in the federal school lunch program.

Consumer advocates, public health officials and representatives from food and beverage companies weighed in during deliberations by government officials. Mission: Readiness, a group comprised of retired military leaders who were in favor of the new rules, told the USDA that one in four Americans would not qualify for military service because they are too heavy.

Reducing junk food
The proposal, part of a federal action plan to improve school food under child nutrition legislation passed in 2010, has been released during National Nutrition Month, which is observed throughout March.

While the new regulations are attempting to reduce the estimated 400 billion calories of junk food that children consume annually at school, they do not cover snacks purchased at activities such as sports events. Exemptions include special occasions at schools, such as fundraising bake sales.

Other specifics within the proposal include a change in beverages that the USDA will allow schools to sell. They may sell only water, low-fat or fat-free milk or 100-percent juices.

In addition to feeding their children healthier snacks, parents can add dietary supplements such as Calmax Kids by Dr. Newton’s Naturals, which is a nutritious beverage powder formulated to build stronger bones in kids. It includes 22 percent of the USDA recommended daily value of calcium as well as magnesium and vitamin C. CalMax Kids is safe for children ages 2 and older.