USDA Proposes National Standards for Competitive Foods in Schools

February 01, 2013

Today, the United States Department of Agriculture proposed national guidelines for competitive foods, or foods sold to students on school grounds that are not part of the National School Lunch Program or similar services. These include a la carte cafeteria items and items sold in vending machines and school stores. We are glad to see the USDA take this important step forward in creating healthier school environments.

Schools and students are changing, and as such, school food and school policy must evolve with them. The National School Lunch Program began in 1945 as a means of fighting malnourishment, with a focus on achieving a minimum of calories and nutrients. For decades, this was the standard.

Now, as childhood obesity and other chronic health problems reach staggering rates and prevent students from achieving, reevaluating school food to ensure access to nutritious meals and snacks is essential. Last year, the USDA updated its guidelines for school meals for the first time in 15 years and shifted the focus from nutrient and calorie requirements to a plan that involved more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and other common-sense adjustments. These changes were a crucial step in the right direction. However, even with more nutritious school meals, students are still met with less healthy options in the same cafeteria line, or in on-campus vending machines. Creating a national standard for competitive foods and creating an overall environment for healthier choices is the next logical step. We need to allow for the healthy choice to be the easy choice.

The USDA has a 60-day comment period and, rest assured, the snack and beverage industries will be making their perspectives heard during this time. We'll be calling on everyone who cares about healthy food and healthy kids to speak up in support of strong and health-promoting guidelines. Our commitment is to ensuring that all students have access to nutritious food and a healthy school environment that will contribute to healthy habits for life.