By Ashley Hofmann, HSC public policy intern
Although Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act a year and a half ago, the USDA is still ironing out the fine print -- specific standards for how we’re going to ensure all kids have nutritious school food that supports their health and learning. The new and much improved meal standards were released this past January and a proposed rule for competitive foods is in the works.
This is a huge deal. Translated from government-speak to plain English, "competitive foods" comprise everything sold in schools outside the official USDA meal programs -- such as chips and sodas from vending machines and a la carte lines -- and are so named because they "compete" with the USDA programs for student dollars.
As you can imagine, many of these foods offer little nutritional value and are high in fat and sugar. So while the USDA has set nutritional standards for school meals, snack foods sold in schools are widely unregulated. Creating national guidelines will go a long way in preventing childhood obesity and related illnesses.
Tomorrow, HSC is joining advocates for children’s health and learning in Washington, DC for a special briefing on the important role that strong nutrition standards for competitive foods can play in improving both children’s health and academic achievement. Please take a moment to urge your senators and representative to attend the briefing and learn more about this critical issue.
To inform the USDA’s work on the new guidelines for competitive foods, the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project and the Health Impact Project, both collaborations of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, released a Health Impact Assessment outlining the influence nutrition standards can have on student diet, school finances, and vulnerable populations.
Findings from the report indicate that strong nutrition standards for competitive foods can:
- Decrease the availability, and therefore consumption, of junk foods, which in turn decreases students’ risks for obesity and diet-related diseases
- Increase school food service revenue through higher participation in the USDA programs
- Have a positive impact on vulnerable student populations by providing greater access to healthy food, which can lead to higher academic performance
To achieve these outcomes, the report recommends that the USDA create nutrition standards for all foods and beverages sold on the school campus. To ensure effective implementation of these standards, the report places special importance on how schools advertise USDA meals as well as the need for schools to receive technical support and training through the process.
To read the findings and recommendations in detail, the full report can be found here.
Plus: Take a moment to invite your senators and representative to tomorrow’s briefing on this issue here!