* Proposed USDA rules to limit fat, salt, sugar
* Snacks should contain 200 calories or less
* Plan allows some soft drinks for older students
* One-third of U.S. youth are overweight or obese
By Susan Heavey and Charles Abbott
WASHINGTON, Feb 1 Snacks sold in U.S. schools
would need to be lower in fat, salt and sugar and include more
nutritious items like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, under
standards proposed on Friday by the U.S. Department of
The proposal, more than a year overdue, also calls for a
limit of 200 calories on items sold during the school day at
vending machines or other venues outside the school lunch line.
The proposed rules are the second step in a larger effort to
improve the foods U.S. students have access to during the school
day under a 2010 child nutrition law. One-third of U.S. children
and teenagers are overweight or obese.
The proposed rules would cover some 50 million children
attending more than 100,000 schools that are part of the school
lunch program. Many U.S. children eat more than half of their
calories at school.
There was wide agreement by food and beverage companies,
consumer advocates and public health experts on the need to
offer students healthier choices
"If a student buys a snack from a vending machine or a slice
of pizza from the a la carte line, it should be healthy," said
Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, head of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,
which focuses on health care. "These proposed nutrition
standards, the first update in more than 30 years, are long
overdue and badly needed."
"ENOUGH JUNK FOOD FOR 2 BILLION CANDY BARS"
Children buy an estimated 400 billion calories of junk food
a year at school, the same calorie count that could be found in
2 billion candy bars, said a group of retired military leaders
who back the proposed rules.
The group, called Mission: Readiness, has warned that one in
four young Americans is too heavy for military service.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has described his own
struggles with weight as a child, said the higher standards for
snack bars, vending machine and cafeterias will mean "the
healthy choice is the easy choice for our kids."
USDA said the rules would not cover items sold at
after-hours activities, such as sporting events. They also would
allow for "important traditions," such as parents sending
cookies or cupcakes to school for a child's birthday, or
"occasional fundraisers and bake sales."
In general, foods sold at school could not provide more than
35 percent of their calories through fat or sugar. Salt content
also would be limited.
For beverages, USDA called for schools to be able to sell
water, low-fat and fat-free milk, and 100 percent juices, with
smaller 8-ounce (240-ml) portions created for younger students.
High school students could buy 20-ounce servings of various
calorie-free beverages, and 12-ounce servings of drinks that
have 75 calories or less but not during lunch or breakfast.
The soft drink industry said it has shifted to lower-calorie
drinks in school vending machines and it welcomed USDA's
proposal. The number of calories shipped to schools in beverages
is down by 90 percent in six years, it said.
The public has 60 days to comment on the proposal before
USDA issues any final ruling. USDA said schools will have at
least one full school year after the final rule is issued to
implement the changes.
Vending machines are in just 13 percent of U.S. elementary
schools but are in two thirds of middle schools, where student
are 11 to 14 years old, and in 85 percent of high schools. USDA
says more than 80 percent of school districts have restricted or
banned sugary drinks and more than 75 percent put limits on
snack foods or banned them.