On February 1, 2013, in a move to curb childhood obesity, which has tripled in the past three decades, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced new nutrition standards for food sold in schools. According to the new proposition, school snacks sold at school must be low in sodium, fat, and sugar; beverage sizes will be restricted; and healthy foods like whole grains and vegetables will be encouraged.
“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,” said 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.”
These nutrition standards would only apply to foods sold in school cafeterias and vending machines—not to food sold at after-school events or sporting games. Parents can also still bring in “junk food” for children’s birthdays and celebrations, and schools will still be allowed to hold bake sales.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the new snack standards:
- Snacks and side dishes must contain 200 calories or less
- Snacks and side dishes must contain 200 mg of sodium or less
- Total fat content must be less than 35% of the total calories in the meal
- Beverages must be caffeine-free
Certain foods will be exempt from these standards. As well, the standards differ from elementary, to middle, to high school.
The announcement came with a lot of support from nutritional activists like Chef Jamie Oliver, who started Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Oliver commented that “schools should be at the heart of food education in tackling eating habits and the obesity epidemic. It is time that all foods sold and served in schools are healthy for kids.”
After all, if it’s only the adults working hard to get themselves healthy, what difference will that make if the kids aren’t following the example?