Will Supermarkets Benefit from Proposed Rules for School Snacks?

February 06, 2013

Will the new school snack proposal send kids running to supermarket and c-stores for their junk food fix? Possibly. Find out the USDA’s proposed rules here.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Governance/Legislation/CNR_2010.htm) requires USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, beyond federally-supported school meals programs.  The latest is the “Smart Snacks in School” proposed rule, to be published soon in the Federal Register (the public will have 60 days to comment on the proposals before the changes take effect), it's the first step in the process to create national standards for school snacks.

At a time when nearly one third of American children are overweight or obese, according to the USDA, putting them at risk for preventable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, this proposal couldn’t be more necessary.

The new proposed standards draw on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, existing voluntary standards already implemented by thousands of schools around the country, and healthy food and beverage offerings already available.

Highlights of USDA’s proposal include:

More of the foods we should encourage.  Promoting availability of healthy snack foods with whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables or protein foods as their main ingredients.

Less of the foods we should avoid.  Ensuring that snack food items are lower in fat, sugar, and sodium and provide more of the nutrients kids need.

Flexibility for important traditions.  Preserving the ability for parents to send in bagged lunches of their choosing or treats for activities such as birthday parties, holidays, and other celebrations; and allowing schools to continue traditions like occasional fundraisers and bake sales.

Flexibility for state and local communities.  Allowing significant local and regional autonomy by only establishing minimum requirements for schools. States and schools that have stronger standards than what is being proposed will be able to maintain their own policies.

A Significant transition period for schools and industry.  The standards will not go into effect until at least one full school year after public comment is considered and an implementing rule is published to ensure that schools and vendors have adequate time to adapt.

Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement last week that the proposed snack guidelines would complement the recently imposed school-meal standards “so the healthy choice is the easy choice for our kids.”

The Lempert Report can’t help but wondering if kids will take a liking to the new healthier snacks or if they will flock to supermarkets, convenience stores, and drug chains for their junk food fix. Certainly shaping the food environment to promote health, by making healthy food available, is the direction we need to be headed. Let's just hope between birthdays and bake sales it sticks.