Snack and a la Carte Foods and Beverages

Ensuring that All Food Sold in Schools is Healthy

Many school children consume up to half of their calories at schools, and school foods and beverages can have a significant impact on children’s diets and weight. With one in three children overweight or obese, what children eat during the school day matters.

As part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was given the authority to establish nutrition standards for all foods and beverages sold in school, including those sold outside of the school meal programs. On February 1 2013, USDA issued proposed nutrition standards for foods and beverages sold in cafeteria à la carte lines, vending machines, school stores, snack bars and elsewhere on campus. These items are sometimes referred to as “competitive foods” because they compete with school meals for students’ appetites and spending.

In preparation for the release of USDA’s proposal, the project examined the snack food environment in secondary schools, where snack foods and beverages are most prevalent. The project’s research shows that the majority of our nation’s secondary schools do not sell fruits and vegetables in school stores, snack bars, or vending machines, and that there is tremendous state-to-state variability in the types of snack foods and beverages available.

To examine the impact of a national nutrition standard for snack foods and beverages in school, the project and the Health Impact Project, both collaborations of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, commissioned Upstream Public Health to conduct the first ever Health Impact Assessment (HIA) of this type of nutrition policy. The analysis found that updating national nutrition standards for snack foods and beverages sold in schools could help students maintain a healthy weight and increase food service revenue.

Updated standards are what Americans want. A recent poll commissioned by the project showed that 80 percent of American voters favor national nutrition standards that would limit calories, fat and sodium in snack and a la carte foods sold in U.S. schools and encourage the consumption of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy items.

For a snapshot of the types of snack foods sold in schools compared to what could be sold under national nutrition standards, please see our infographic.

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