The proposed standards for competitive foods, which compete with nutritious school meals, promote consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nonfat or low-fat dairy products. They also restrict saturated fat, salt, added sugars, total calories and the sale of caffeinated items.
The recommendations, released Wednesday in Washington, D.C., were developed at the request of Congress by an Institute of Medicine committee, which included Barbara Fish, a member of the West Virginia Board of Education from Parkersburg.
“Competitive foods don’t have to be unhealthy,” Fish said. “If children need extra food outside of the school breakfast and lunch programs, we must provide them the means to make healthy choices. These recommendations are in the best interest of children.”
Apple or pear slices, fruit cups packed in juice or water, baby carrots, dried fruit, 100 percent fruit juice or 100 percent low-salt vegetable juice are some of the recommended products, while potato chips and pretzels that have too much sugar or salt and regular soda would not meet standards. All such foods should not exceed 200 calories.
A 2000 General Accounting Office report found that competitive foods were sold in 98 percent of secondary schools, 74 percent of middle schools and 43 percent of elementary schools. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires school meals to follow its dietary guidelines, federal restrictions on competitive foods and beverages are limited.
Only 27 states, including West Virginia, have imposed further restrictions. West Virginia schools are prohibited from ala carte sales, except for meal components at breakfast and milk, milkshakes and bottled water at lunch. West Virginia also is one of only 16 states to require nutritional standards for competitive foods and one of only 14 states to restrict portion size.
West Virginia prohibits the sale of sodas in elementary and middle schools and requires only healthy drinks be sold. It also prohibits the sale of candy or chewing gum and limits what is sold in vending machines and when they can be turned on so that they don’t interfere with school lunches.
"We want to reduce the amount of total fat and sugar kids eat,” said state Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine. “We're trying to teach them to make balanced choices, that fruit can be a good choice even in a world full of Oreos.”
The full report can be viewed at http://www.national-academies.org.