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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Junk food could be out at public schools

Asked by Congress to develop nutritional standards for all food in schools, the Institute of Medicine rolled out its two-tier nutrition recommendations today. Tier 1 applies elementary and middle-school children for the entire day, and to high school kids during school hours. Tier 2 standards are somewhat looser and apply only to high school kids after school hours.

The major items?
  1. School lunch - with all its dietary guidelines - should be the primary source of nutrition for school children. (This GAO report on school lunch reveals its shortcomings).
  2. Competing foods to school lunch should be limited
  3. When available, competing foods should *gasp* meet the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Here's what the guidelines are for Tier 1 (you won't find Twinkies in here):
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and related combination products* and nonfat and low-fat dairy that are limited to 200 calories or less per portion as packaged.

Beverages include:
  • Water without flavoring, additives, or carbonation.
  • Low-fat (1%) and nonfat milk:
    • Lactose-free and soy beverages are included
  • flavored milk with no more than 22g of total sugars per 8-oz. serving
  • 100-percent fruit juice in 4-oz. portion as packaged for elementary/middle school and 8 oz. (two portions) for high school.
  • Caffeine-free, with the exception of trace amounts of naturally occurring caffeine substances.
These restrictions would apply anywhere on the school campus including vending machines and the "a la carte" lines. Remember when you could still get a burger and fries at school? That's over, because all items sold will have to meet the National School Lunch standards for fat, sodium, and sugar.

Tier 2 foods don't have to be quite so healthy - no mention of fruits or veggies - but you won't likely find a Twinkie here either. Diet soda pop clears the 5-calorie hurdle, but only if it lacks caffeine:
Tier 2 snack foods are those that do not exceed 200 calories per portion as packaged and:
  • No more than 35 percent of total calories from fat
  • Less than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fats
  • Zero Trans fat (≤ 0.5 g per portion)
  • 35 percent or less of calories from total sugars
  • Sodium content of 200 mg or less per portion as packaged.
Tier 2 beverages are:
  • Non-caffeinated, non-fortified beverages with less than 5 calories per portion as packaged (with or without nonnutritive sweeteners, carbonation, or flavoring).
Despite the fact that these items are recommendations to Congress (not even close to actual standards for schools), the food and beverage lobby is already coming out swinging:
The Center for Consumer Freedom worried that the report could lead to a government "no child with a fat behind" program.

The growing rate of obesity is caused by lack of physical activity rather than overeating, according to the group, which describes itself as representing restaurants, food companies and individuals.
Folks, we could only hope for an America that has "no child with a fat behind."

For all the gritty details of the Institute's recommendations, check out their fact sheet. For more on efforts to improve nutrition in schools, check out former President Clinton's success with a voluntary restriction on soda pop in school vending machines.

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