warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

USDA Mandates Smarter Snacks For Schools

Jennifer Joh |
July 3, 2013 | 12:58 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Vending machine snacks, via Wikimedia Commons
Vending machine snacks, via Wikimedia Commons
Sugary drinks and high-calorie snacks sold in public school vending machines and snack bars across the country have officially been banned. On Thursday, June 27, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released new snack standards aimed at encouraging healthier eating habits.

Schoolchildren have just one more year to get their fill of sweets and even energy drinks before the new requirements go into effect in fall of 2014.

The new regulations will discontinue the sales of soda, fruit punch, sports drinks, doughnuts and cookies. Soon these vending machine staples will be replaced by more nutritious choices including fruit cups, baked chips, granola bars, no-calorie flavored water and diet sodas. 

Specific beverage standards of the legislation allow high schools to offer carbonated beverages, but only if they contain less than 10 calories per 20 fluid ounces, eliminating soda. Elementary and middle schools, however, are only allowed to provide non-fat or low-fat milk, water, and 100% fruit or vegetable juice.

The USDA requires that any snack sold in vending machines and snack bars must be below 200 calories. A graphic provided by the USDA shows what snacks will look like before and after the standards goes into effect.

"Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong," said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement on Thursday. "Providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will support their great efforts." 

These standards are required under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, as a result of cooperation between the food industry and nutrition advocates, as well as support from First Lady Michelle Obama.

Vilsack regards the nutrition standards as an “important component of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s move! initiative to combat the challenge of childhood obesity.”   

ALSO SEE: First Lady and Others Applaud Efforts to Make America's School Environment Healthier For Kids

The USDA had already established limitations on fat, sodium and sugar in school-prepared meals, but now these limitations extend beyond the cafeteria to all food and drinks. 

The rules do not, however, apply to packed lunches and fundraisers. This means that school groups can still sell sugary snacks at fundraising bake sales when the school day has ended, and kids can bring in doughnuts or cupcakes for the class on birthdays. States will be given the authority to decide how many bake sales schools can hold. 

The USDA justifies this, saying it has “sought to balance the needs of schools to conduct occasional fundraisers." It also emphasizes that students will “still be able to buy snacks,” but ones that “meet common-sense standards.”

The USDA’s announcement came on the very same day that Congress held a hearing to discuss the problems that nutrition standards are creating, including increased food waste and a decreased number of kids in the school lunch lines.

Local students, however, are not excited for the implementation of these changes.

I think that these regulations do have good intentions, but I feel that they won't be that effective,” said Tiffany Chung, an incoming high school senior who has attended public institutions in California throughout her life. “We can still bring unhealthy snacks from home and I feel that not a lot of us would actually buy the healthier snacks from school.”

Although some Republicans also criticized the regulations, the American Beverage Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association both support the new rules.

Other health advocates are hoping to curb consumption of fatty foods by adults by educating their children with healthier eating behaviors. 

See USDA's video, "Smarter Snacks For School Children." 

Reach Staff Reporter Jennifer Joh here. Follow her on Twitter here



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.