New Rules Aim To Rid Schools Of Junk Foods

(AP) — High-calorie sports drinks and candy bars will be removed from
school vending machines and cafeteria lines as soon as next year,
replaced with diet drinks, granola bars and other healthier items.

Agriculture Department said Thursday that for the first time it will
make sure that all foods sold in the nation's 100,000 schools are
healthier by expanding fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits to almost
everything sold during the school day.

includes snacks sold around the school and foods on the “a la carte”
line in cafeterias, which never have been regulated before. The new
rules, proposed in February and made final this week, also would allow
states to regulate student bake sales.

rules, required under a child nutrition law passed by Congress in 2010,
are part of the government's effort to combat childhood obesity. The
rules have the potential to transform what many children eat at school.

some schools already have made improvements in their lunch menus and
vending machine choices, others still are selling high-fat, high-calorie
foods. Standards put into place at the beginning of the 2012 school
year already regulate the nutritional content of free and low-cost
school breakfasts and lunches that are subsidized by the federal
government. However most lunchrooms also have the “a la carte” lines
that sell other foods – often greasy foods like mozzarella sticks and
nachos. Under the rules, those lines could offer healthier pizzas,
low-fat hamburgers, fruit cups or yogurt, among other foods that meet
the standards

One of the biggest changes under
the rules will be a near-ban on high-calorie sports drinks, which many
beverage companies added to school vending machines to replace
high-calorie sodas that they pulled in response to criticism from the
public health community.

The rule would only
allow sales in high schools of sodas and sports drinks that contain 60
calories or less in a 12-ounce serving, banning the highest-calorie
versions of those beverages.

Many companies
already have developed low-calorie sports drinks – Gatorade's G2, for
example – and many diet teas and diet sodas are also available for sale.

and middle schools could sell only water, carbonated water, 100 percent
fruit or vegetable juice, and low fat and fat-free milk, including
nonfat flavored milks.

At a congressional
hearing, a school nutritionist said Thursday that schools have had
difficulty adjusting to the 2012 changes, and the new “a la carte”
standards could also be a hardship.

Ford, president of the School Nutrition Association and director of food
and nutrition services for a school district in Bradenton, Fla., said
in prepared testimony that the healthier foods have been expensive and
participation has declined since the standards went into effect. She
also predicted that her school district could lose $975,000 a year under
the new “a la carte” guidelines because they would have to eliminate
many of the foods they currently sell.

new meal pattern requirements have significantly increased the expense
of preparing school meals, at a time when food costs were already on the
rise,” she said.

Ford called on the USDA to
permanently do away with the limits on grains and proteins, saying they
hampered her school district's ability to serve sandwiches and salads
with chicken on top that had proved popular with students.

Government Accountability Office said it visited eight districts around
the country and found that in most districts students were having
trouble adjusting to some of the new foods, leading to increased food
waste and decreased participation in the school lunch program.

the agency said in a report that most students spoke positively about
eating healthier foods and predicted they will get used to the changes
over time.

One principle of the new rules is
not just to cut down on unhealthy foods but to increase the number of
healthier foods sold. The standards encourage more whole grains, low-fat
dairy, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.

not enough for it to be low in problem nutrients, it also has to
provide positive nutritional benefits,” says Margo Wootan, a nutrition
lobbyist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest who has
lobbied for the new rules. “There has to be some food in the food.”

new rules are the latest in a long list of changes designed to make
foods served in schools more healthful and accessible. Nutritional
guidelines for the subsidized lunches were revised last year and put in
place last fall. The 2010 child nutrition law also provided more money
for schools to serve free and reduced-cost lunches and required more
meals to be served to hungry kids.

Last year's
rules making main lunch fare more nutritious faced criticism from some
conservatives, including some Republicans in Congress, who said the
government shouldn't be telling kids what to eat. Mindful of that
backlash, the Agriculture Department left one of the more controversial
parts of the rule, the regulation of in-school fundraisers like bake
sales, up to the states.

The new guidelines
also would not apply to after-school concessions at school games or
theater events, goodies brought from home for classroom celebrations, or
anything students bring for their own personal consumption.

USDA so far has shown a willingness to work with schools to resolve
complaints that some new requirements are hard to meet. Last year, for
example, the government temporarily relaxed some limits on meats and
grains in subsidized lunches after school nutritionists said they
weren't working.

The food industry has been
onboard with many of the changes, and several companies worked with
Congress on the child nutrition law three years ago.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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