Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, public schools across the country will be required to comply with new standards set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for snacks sold on their campuses.
The new standards, announced earlier this summer, include restrictions on calorie, fat, sodium and sugar content in food and drinks sold during the school day. Cookies, doughnuts and sugary drinks will be given the heave-ho and replaced with healthier options like granola bars, baked chips, flavored water and diet soda.
“Kids need a variety of nutrients to ensure proper growth, development, and immune function,” said Dr. Josh Ordway of Franklin Family Medicine. “Eliminating some of the saturated fat, sodium and sugar in snack choices will make a huge difference in how kids feel and perform in school. Eating healthy snacks also supports lifelong healthy eating habits that will help to prevent chronic illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and even some forms of cancer.”
So, how do area schools stack up on the transition to healthier school snacks continuum? The good news is they look pretty darn good.
“The drastic overhaul for us was back in July of 2011 when Ohio Senate Bill 210 was introduced,” said Louise Easterly, supervisor of food and nutrition for Kettering City Schools. “It really put us right where we need to be as far as being in compliance with the new standards being rolled out.”
Senate Bill 210 – The Healthy Choice for Healthy Children Act – contains provisions to combat childhood obesity by increasing students’ physical activity and ensuring access to healthy meals and beverages at schools. The enactment of the bill into law forced Ohio schools to take a closer look at the nutritional value of the food and drinks accessible to their students.
“With Senate Bill 210, we had to make changes like going from regular potato chips to the baked version, fat levels in ice cream also had to be looked at closely,” Easterly said. “Where we once had say 15 choices of ice cream, we’re down to only a handful. Even granola bars. People hear ‘granola’ and assume it’s healthy, but we have to critique those as well to make sure the nutritional content is where it needs to be.”
The situation is much the same for Mason City Schools in Mason. “The school food guidelines we’ve adopted over the last few years are compliant with Senate Bill 210 and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (an organization founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation in response to a growing rate of childhood obesity),” said Tamara Earl, child nutrition supervisor for Mason City Schools.
Earl says that everything is 100 percent whole grain, trans-fats have been eliminated and calories are right where they need to be. “Sodium content is going to be the biggest challenge,” Earl said. “But we’ve been pretty progressive on making the necessary changes.”
Senate Bill 210 has also had an impact on food and drinks available in vending machines — an area also addressed by the new USDA standards — resulting in many districts eliminating them from their campuses. “We have completely eliminated all vending machines from all of our schools,” Easterly said. According to Earl, Mason City Schools have very few and students have likely noticed the very different mix of what is available in the vending machines still around.
To be clear, the new USDA snack standards only affect food and drinks sold in schools during the day. It does not apply to food that students bring from home or to school groups who sell food for fundraisers (such as bake sales) on school grounds after the school day is over.
All in all, it seems that the impact of the new USDA standards won’t be too dramatic for students in Ohio’s public schools as they are already well on their way to eating healthier while on campus. In addition, making healthier snacks available to students could go a long way in helping them academically.
“Unhealthy snacks such as those with high amounts of saturated fat, sodium and sugar have been associated with poorer math scores, repeating grade levels, tardiness, absenteeism and visits to school psychologists because of behavioral issues,” Ordway said. “Making healthy snacks available can help to combat these issues, allowing students to be present in the classroom more often while improving concentration, providing energy, and boosting brain function, potentially improving the student’s ability to learn.”