WASHINGTON (AP) — High-calorie sports drinks and candy bars
will be removed from vending machines and cafeteria lines at all U.S. schools as
soon as next year, replaced with diet drinks, granola bars and other healthier
The Agriculture Department said June 27 for the first time
that it will make sure 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.
Required under a child nutrition law passed by Congress in
2010, the rules are part of the government’s effort to combat childhood obesity.
The rules have the potential to transform what many children eat at school.
The regulations apply to 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 recently, also would
allow states to regulate student bake sales.
While some schools already have made improvements in their
lunch menus and vending machine choices, others still are selling high-fat,
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 such as 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 also are
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 children eat when they’re not at home.
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.
The food industry has been onboard with many of the changes,
and several companies worked with Congress on the child nutrition law three
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