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New rules restrict junk food from schools

Smart Snacks in School rules go into effect July 1
New federal rules  cap the amount of fat, sodium, sugar and calories in food available in schools.
New federal rules cap the amount of fat, sodium, sugar and calories in food available in schools.

As of July 1, students will have a harder time getting their hands on junk food in public schools, as stricter standards raise the nutritional value of what’s available in cafeterias, campus stores, snack bars and vending machines.

The Smart Snacks in School rules were based on input from the Institute of Medicine, school districts that had already implemented tight nutritional standards, and over 2,000 comments from the public, according to the USDA.

To comply with the new rules, food items must meet any of these requirements:

  • Be rich in whole grains
  • Have a fruit, vegetable, dairy or protein as its primary ingredient
  • Be a “combination food” containing at least 1/4-cup of a fruit or vegetable
  • Contain 10 percent of the recommended daily value of calcium, potassium, vitamin D or dietary fiber.

Further limitations cap the amount of fat, sodium, sugar and calories. The only drinks permitted are water, juice, unflavored milk and flavored fat-free milk. The serving size for the latter two is limited to 8 ounces for elementary schools and 12 ounces for middle and high schools. High schools may also serve alternative calorie-free and low-calorie beverages in portions up to 20 ounces.

The rules are in effect only during school hours, and they allow for exceptions, including in-school celebrations and fund-raisers. High schools may permit certain low-calorie beverages, including those with caffeine.

The effort comes amid a growing public awareness of the prevalence of child obesity and associated health risks. More than one third of U.S. children and adolescents were classified as obese or overweight in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The potential immediate and long-term health effects related to child obesity include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, prediabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, heart disease and increased risk of certain types of cancer, the CDC reports.

“Kids do a lot of their eating in school—two meals a day. So having even small changes—and these are more than small changes—can make a big difference,” says Dr. Maura Frank, an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College and director of Health for Life, a New York City program that helps children and teenagers develop healthy eating and activity habits.

“Moreover, schools are the center of education, and teaching students that this is what you should be eating can have tremendous carryover to the rest of their lives,” Frank adds.

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