On June 27, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced new rules effectively banning the sale of snack foods like candy, cookies and sugary drinks, including sports drinks, in schools, making it harder for students to avoid the now-healthier school meals by eating snacks sold in vending machines.
That means that when schools open for the 2014 – 2015 school year, vending machines will have to be stocked with things like whole wheat crackers, granola bars and dried fruits, instead of Skittles, Cheese Nips and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
Under the guidelines, all snack items offered for sale during the school day must contain fewer than 200 calories and comply with restrictions on sugar, fat and sodium content. A la carte entree items may contain up to 350 calories. Water, flavored water, milk, fruit juices and diet sodas are the only drinks allowed.
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not have the authority to rule on birthday cupcakes and other treats brought from home, although many school districts have instituted their own rules on these items. However, Vilsack did stress that the rules will not affect after-school activities such as sporting events.
Nutritionists say that school vending machines stocked with potato chips, cookies and sugary soft drinks contribute to childhood obesity, which has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about one in every six children is obese.
“Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options through school cafeterias, vending machines and snack bars will support their great efforts,” Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, said in a statement.
The idea of regulating the contents of vending machines is not new: about half of U.S. states have already adopted some restrictions, including policies that limit the times or types of competitive foods available for sale in vending machines, cafeterias, school stores and snack bars. Most states restrict access to competitive foods when school meals are being served. Five states restrict access to vending machines all day long.
But these new rules will force all public schools to limit what’s available to their students during the school day.
As a high school teacher, I applaud the effort to raise awareness of healthy eating habits in teenagers. Sadly, I can already hear their comments: “There’s nothing to eat here!” Ah well, it will take some time to retrain their taste buds.
Hopefully parents won’t react the same way some mothers in the UK did. After Jamie Oliver promoted healthy school food there, several moms took to buying soft drinks, burgers, pies and french fries and pushing them through the fence surrounding their children’s school into the outstretched hands of their youngsters.
From The New York Times:
“By teaching and modeling healthy eating habits to children in school, these rules will encourage better eating habits over a lifetime,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which worked on the legislation. “They mean we aren’t teaching nutrition in the classroom and then undercutting what we’re teaching when kids eat in the cafeteria or buy food from the school vending machines.”
Health advocates are taking the same approach to curb the consumption of fatty, sugary and salty foods that they did to reduce smoking: educating children in the hopes that they will grow up healthier and perhaps pass along healthy eating behavior to their parents
Teachers, watch out! We also need to model healthy eating habits for our students to make this work.
Photo Credit: kswx_29