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New rules aim to rid schools of junk foods

By Mary Clare Jalonick

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 09:47 a.m. HST, Jun 27, 2013

WASHINGTON » 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.

The Agriculture Department said today 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.

That 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.

The 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.

While 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.

Elementary 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.

First lady Michelle Obama, an advocate for healthy eating and efforts to reduce childhood obesity, pointed out that many working parents don't have control over what their kids eat when they're not at home.

"That's why as a mom myself, I am so excited that schools will now be offering healthier choices to students and reinforcing the work we do at home to help our kids stay healthy," Mrs. Obama said in a statement.

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

Sandra 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.

"The 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.

The 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.

However, 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.

"It's 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."

The 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.

The 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.

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8082062424 wrote:
Most of the school lunch they serve goes in the trash. kids will just bring it from home snack wise. or buy it before they come to school
on June 27,2013 | 06:16AM
Slow wrote:
And the point is?
on June 27,2013 | 07:16AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Kids are impulsive eaters. Taste first. Nutritional value second
on June 27,2013 | 07:37AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Paula Deen agrees with that.
on June 27,2013 | 08:16AM
jrboi96786 wrote:
don't make it sound like you came out of your mother as an adult...
on June 27,2013 | 11:53AM
jrboi96786 wrote:
it's not their fault. its the law.
on June 27,2013 | 11:56AM
Ronin006 wrote:
The obesity epidemic in the country started in the 1970s when the US government began imposing nutrition standards on the states and has gotten worse as the US government passed more regulations and threw more money at the problem. We now have the American Medical Association saying obesity is a disease, which now gives obese people an excuse to justify their irresponsible eating habits. It won’t be long before the US government declares obesity a disability and starts paying billions in disability payments to fat people, which will encourage more people to become obese.
on June 27,2013 | 01:09PM
ready2go wrote:
Then why is the Board of Education allowing the State Libraries to have vending machines?
on June 27,2013 | 07:15AM
sailfish1 wrote:
Have you ever been to a State library? They don't have any vending machines. In fact, eating and drinking is NOT allowed in State libraries.
on June 27,2013 | 05:09PM
tiwtsfm wrote:
If the schools and parents taught nutrition to the students starting in Kindergarten, then perhaps they would know how to make healthy choices. Then there would be no need for all of this fuss about school food. The junk food would simply be rejected by the students and the problem would be solved. Smart consumers drive the market.
on June 27,2013 | 07:19AM
mikethenovice wrote:
The pig slop man will be very happy bring all that wasted food to his pigs on his farm.
on June 27,2013 | 07:35AM
busterb wrote:
Maybe not, the pigs might not like fat free, healthy stuff!
on June 27,2013 | 07:53AM
koaboy wrote:
Nutrition starts at the HOME far BEFORE a kid ever steps foot in school.
on June 27,2013 | 07:43AM
busterb wrote:
I think a lot of times nutrition actually starts in the min-van when the pop-tarts are distributed or they finally get through the line at the Mcd's drive through.
on June 27,2013 | 07:54AM
mikethenovice wrote:
The problem with childhood obesity is not what they eat, it's that the kids are not burning it off. We Boomers never has this problem. We walked to school. We played hard. We didn't have a smartphone to stare at.
on June 27,2013 | 07:33AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Medical books on childhood obesity became popular within the past ten years.
on June 27,2013 | 07:33AM
mikethenovice wrote:
My doctor says that eating junk food is OK once in a while.
on June 27,2013 | 07:34AM
hanalei395 wrote:
The "best" junk food, and the best bargain in town, is a giant hot dog at Costco. And with all the fixxin's, re-fillable drink .. $1.50
on June 27,2013 | 08:33AM
Bdpapa wrote:
Yes it is!
on June 27,2013 | 09:52AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Feed kids healthy food with more fiber and the kids become gassy and hit the can more often. That will affect the classroom time.
on June 27,2013 | 07:38AM
retire wrote:
I remember the school lunches, they all tasted "Junk".
on June 27,2013 | 08:27AM
Bdpapa wrote:
Never ate them. Went home after school and ate.
on June 27,2013 | 09:52AM
eljay wrote:
It is a racket like everything else.. school cafes are run by managers who can do what they please. Example: the cafe at one school in the HK area serves fabulous lunches and the kids and parents love it and are happy. Not five miles down the road another school's cafe serves awful lunches almost daily. I say "almost" because during the month of September cafes at schools need to show they serve enough kids/lunches to warrant all the workers there. So during the month of Sept they serve wonderful food! It is fantastic! All students/stafff and faculty are "encouraged" to eat in the cafe every day...which most do...then the count is in... and back to chickenchickenchicken.!!!! Further, when parents complained they were assured it was being "looked into". At one meeting a parent was told the lunched were fine . When it was offered that a teacher had a refrigerator/ microwave in class and the students could bring home lunches the VP said," No, the school lunches are fine. (the VP who ate every lunch out at a nearby fast food joint). They are even discouraged from bringing their own lunches.
on June 27,2013 | 08:32AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
You really need to bring this up to people higher up on the chain.
on June 27,2013 | 09:49AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
What is really ironic about this is that people want smaller government but people ask the government to do more for them. What people don't realize is that the more they ask government to do, the bigger government becomes. And the more we ask of government to do, the more workers they will need. And the more workers they need, the more taxes we have to pay. That's a big reason why our government has grown so huge. People ask that the government shrink but at the same time we ask for more services. And we wonder why our government has grown so big. Now, I am all for removing junk food in the schools. But at the same time, these schools brought in these vendors to generate income. Those schools that brought these vendors in will now ask for more money to make up for the loss of these vendors. The federal government should allow each state to decide on this matter as it will impact each school. Some schools depend a lot on the vendors to generate income. Also, removing the vendors from the schools will result in some businesses to fold as many of them depend on the schools for business. If they fold, so do people's jobs. We need to shrink our government, not increase it.
on June 27,2013 | 09:45AM
sailfish1 wrote:
Why don't they just remove all the vending machines at schools? Kids are supposed to be in classes and classes should not allow eating or drinking. At lunchtime, kids can eat what is in the cafeteria or what they brought from home. After school, the kids can go home and eat if needed.
on June 27,2013 | 05:16PM
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