by Marion Nestle
Feb 5 2013

USDA proposes rules for “competitive” snack foods

At long last, the USDA announced that it has released its proposed rules governing the nutritional content of snacks, sodas, and meals sold in competition with federally subsidized school breakfasts and lunches.

As soon as the rules get published in the Federal Register, which is supposed to happen this week, people will have 60 days to file comments.  Although USDA has not said when it will issue final rules, it did say that it will give schools another year to implement them.

The rules apply to foods sold outside the school meals in vending machines and a la carte lines.  They will not apply to fundraisers.  They set minimum standards.  States and localities that want stricter standards may do so.  A recent CDC analysis says states are already doing this (see Competitive Foods and Beverages in U.S. Schools: A State Policy Analysis).

Under the proposed rules, schools must provide:

  • Potable water at no charge [this alone is cause for celebration].
  • Real foods that are either something recognizable as a food or something that naturally contains 10% of the Daily Value in calcium, potassium, vitamin D, or fiber.
  • Snacks with less than 200 mg sodium per serving.
  • Desserts with less than 35% of calories from sugars or less than 35% of weight as sugars.
  • Beverages with no more than 40 or 50 calories per 8-ounce serving.

There are plenty of exceptions.   I can only guess that the exemption for sweetened yogurt—30 grams of sugars in 8 ounces—has something to do with dairy lobbying.

My immediate reaction: these rules are a big improvement and deserve much support.

Applause to USDA for this one!

  • This is great news. Starting with school lunches is a huge way to change the way we as a country eat as they can influence the way a person thinks about food for the rest of his or her life.

  • brainmatters

    It’s a start, but too bad about so many exemptions. We don’t seem to have a government anymore–just a giant lobbying machine.

  • Looks and sounds like an attempt to appease, I’ll be impressed when I see action and results. The many exemptions to me speaks louder than the rest of the message.

    Thanks for inviting my thoughts.

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  • This is a good start though many people won’t usually go for these restriction, I do think moderation should be implied.

    Anyways this is a great start!

  • John

    Yogurt exemption exemplifies how much influence the lobbyists still have in the final say. This to me is the bigger problem because people are still confused as to what is actually healthy for them. Until we acknowledge and deal with our sugar addiction in this country, these kind of steps will have little impact on addressing our health crisis.

  • “Real foods that are either something recognizable as a food.” <—This was kind of funny.
    I seem to agree with the thought that there are way too many exceptions and this needs to be worked with, before we can truly crack down on children's healthcare. It's a shame that our government has turned into this.

  • FarmerJane

    John, Yogurt is good for you. But, try to fine the pure stuff…not the faked up, additive laden “yogurt jello” that passes for yogurt. Senator Gillibrand is asking that Greek Yogurt be added to school lunch programs.

  • There still has to be so much done with fine tuning each food, especially when so much is said to be healthy, yet it is not.

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  • Thanks Professor Nestle! Here’s the official link in the Federal Register, where people can comment. Deadline is April 9th.!documentDetail;D=FNS-2011-0019-0001

  • Constance Leber

    I appreciate USDA’s work to update the nutrition standards for snacks and beverages sold in schools through vending machines, school stores, a la carte, and on-campus fundraisers.

    Overall, I strongly support the “Smart Snacks in Schools” proposed rule. As you know, over the last three decades, childhood obesity rates have tripled and most children’s diets fail to meet the Dietary Guidelines. While there has been some progress due to state and local policies and voluntary action, nutritionally poor foods and beverages are still widely available in schools.

    Selling unhealthy food in schools undermines nutrition education, as well as parents’ ability to help their children eat healthfully. In addition, many studies and real-life examples show that when schools switch to healthier foods, children’s diets improve and schools do not lose revenue.

    I strongly support the following for the final rule:

    The standards should apply to all snacks and beverages sold in schools, across the school campus, and throughout the school day (up through at least 30 minutes after school ends).
    All foods sold in schools should meet strong standards for calories, fats, sugars, and salt, as well as provide to students a positive nutritional benefit, such as be a fruit, vegetable or whole grain, or naturally contain a key nutrient that kids are not getting enough of.
    All foods sold in school cafeterias should meet the standards, with no loopholes for certain items sold in a la carte lines in cafeterias.
    The standards should be applied to foods and beverages as they are packaged and sold to children (i.e. one bag of chips should count as one serving).
    Sugary drinks, like full-calorie sodas, should not be sold in schools. I also urge you to exclude full-calorie sports drinks, which also get all their calories from sugar.

    Thank you for proposing this much-needed update to the nutrition standards for snacks and beverages sold in schools. I urge you to build on your proposal and strengthen it to ensure that all foods and beverages sold in schools meet strong nutrition standards.