Rules Call for Swing to Healthier Snacks in Schools

Snacks sold in U.S. schools would need to be lower in fat, salt and sugar and include more nutritious items like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, under standards proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The proposal, more than a year overdue, also calls for a limit of 200 calories on items sold during the school day at vending machines or other venues outside the school lunch line.

The proposed rules are the second step in a larger effort to improve the foods U.S. students have access to during the school day under a 2010 child nutrition law. One-third of U.S. children and teenagers are overweight or obese.

The proposed rules would cover some 50 million children attending more than 100,000 schools that are part of the school lunch program. Many U.S. children eat more than half of their calories at school.

There was wide agreement by food and beverage companies, consumer advocates and public health experts on the need to offer students healthier choices

“If a student buys a snack from a vending machine or a slice of pizza from the a la carte line, it should be healthy,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, head of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which focuses on health care. “These proposed nutrition standards, the first update in more than 30 years, are long overdue and badly needed.”

Children buy an estimated 400 billion calories of junk food a year at school, the same calorie count that could be found in 2 billion candy bars, said a group of retired military leaders who back the proposed rules.

The group, called Mission: Readiness, has warned that one in four young Americans is too heavy for military service.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has described his own struggles with weight as a child, said the higher standards for snack bars, vending machine and cafeterias will mean “the healthy choice is the easy choice for our kids.”

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