Health Group Calls USDA's National School Nutrition Guidelines Historic

School Guidelines Will Support Children's Health; Statement of CSPI Director of Nutrition Policy Margo G. Wootan


As a result of the updated standards announced by USDA, children will be protected from the sugar drinks and junk food that tempt them through school vending machines, a la carte lines in cafeterias, and school stores and snack bars. USDA's action is much needed given children's generally unhealthy diets and high rates of obesity. Studies show that unhealthy snacks and drinks sold in schools undermine children's diets and increase their weights.

Under the updated school nutrition guidelines, parents will no longer have to worry that their kids are using their lunch money to buy junk food and junk drinks at school. Combined with the improvements in school lunches that schools are implementing, all foods and beverages sold in schools will need to meet healthy nutrition standards.

Full-calorie sodas have already largely disappeared from schools, thanks to a number of state and school district policies, a threatened lawsuit, and an agreement the beverage industry struck with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. USDA's new beverage standards will go further and exclude Gatorade-type "sports drinks" and other mid-calorie beverages (allowing no more than 40 calories per eight ounces, in containers no larger than 12 ounces; 8 ounces of soda typically have about 100 calories). A typical 12-ounce Gatorade has all the added sugars most children and teen girls should consume in a whole day and two-thirds of the recommended amount for teen boys.

The good news is that finishing the job of getting high-sugar drinks out of schools should have a negligible financial impact on schools. According to a CSPI study, sports drinks and other mid-calorie beverages generate only $0.74 per student per year in school revenue and could easily be replaced by sales of lower-calorie drinks.

This is the first update since the 1970s to the nutrition standards for foods sold outside the school meal programs. Current national school nutrition standards for foods sold outside of meals only limit "foods of minimal nutritional value," like seltzer water, hard candy, and ice pops, and not candy bars, snack cakes, and sugary (vitamin-fortified) sports drinks, which contain a smidgen of nutrients.

The updated USDA standards will better address obesity and dietary problems, like saturated and trans fats, salt, and sugars. After a phase-in period, companies won't be able to just fortify snacks with cheap nutrients to qualify them as healthy; all school foods will have to contain food―some fruit, vegetables, whole grains, or another healthy food component.

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