The USDA announced Thursday that schools will be required to get rid of unhealthy snacks for students in the 2016-2017 school year, finalizing the Smart Snacks in School program first implemented in 2014. Healthy school snacks will be highlighted and offered in place of junk food.
"Education and wellness and advertising to kids about healthier choices [and] that all has to be part of the school environment just like making sure they have pencils and paper and computers," Katie Wilson, USDA deputy under secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, told ABC News.
The move toward healthy school snacks will pertain not only to snack offerings but also to advertisements in schools, particularly on school vending machines. A 2014 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics showed that 70 percent of elementary and middle school students were exposed to such advertisements on school property, something that, according to a study published in Obesity Review on July 5, may contribute to childhood obesity. The study showed that children are more likely to eat unhealthy foods after seeing advertisements featuring them.
“Overall, our analyses support the need for a review of public policy on child-targeted unhealthy food and beverage marketing," the researchers wrote of these findings.
The rule meets the school health standards championed by First Lady Michelle Obama in the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The Act established standards for foods offered by schools, highlighting fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
The Smart Snacks in School program built upon these standards, requiring that all foods sold in schools be made up of whole grains, contain at least ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetable, or “have as the first ingredient a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, or a protein food.” The standards also included criteria for maximum calories, sodium, fat, and sugar in individual items.
"I am thrilled with the progress we continue to make in building healthier learning environments for our kids with science-based nutrition standards for all food sold and marketed in schools,” the First Lady said in a statement. “As a mom, I know how hard parents work to provide nutritious meals and snacks to their kids, and we want to make sure we support those efforts with healthy choices at school."
Childhood obesity in the U.S. has more than doubled in the past 30 years, with adolescent obesity more than quadrupling, according to the CDC. Nearly 18 percent of children aged 6 to 11 in the United States were obese in 2012.
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Healthy school snacks image via Shutterstock