The U.S. Department of Agriculture released new health standards for school snacks today as part of its new “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition overhaul to battle childhood obesity.
The standards set a limit for the amount of sugar, fat, and salt sold in vending machines and snack bars on school campuses. Foods must contain at least 50 percent whole grains or have a fruit, vegetable, protein, or dairy as the first ingredient. Certain beverages will also be banned, especially sports drinks that have high sugar contents.
“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children. Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will support their great efforts,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack commented in a statement.
The USDA mandates that the standards must be met by July 1, 2014. The regulations follow the standards set for school meals under the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which began to be phased into effect in July 2012. Students will still be allowed to bring any snack of their choosing from home, as well as treats for birthdays. Any after-school event such as a sports game or bake sale will be exempt from the regulations.
The new regulations received high praise from First Lady Michelle Obama, whose “Let’s Move” anti-childhood obesity campaign is in alignment with the act.
“Many parents are working hard every day to make sure they provide healthy, balanced meals and snacks to their kids,” the First Lady said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we don’t always have control over the snacks our kids have access to when they’re away from home.”
However, it’s likely the new regulations will face opposition from students, especially those in high school. The Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act set calorie minimums and maximums for school meals based on the varying ages of students. The standards were met with stiff disapproval from students who argued that the calorie counts were too low for growing teens. Students at a Kansas high school released a video titled “We are Hungry,” that depicted high school athletes fainting from lack of food. The video has received over 1 million hits on YouTube:
Though high school students will inevitably lament the loss of traditional vending machine snacks, their argument for not getting enough calories is flimsy, since one can easily fill up on healthier options to obtain enough sustenance. It's a shame better school lunches are coming through federal regulation, but that doesn't make them a bad idea.