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WASHINGTON – Eighty percent of American voters favor national nutrition standards that would limit calories, fat and sodium in snack and à la carte foods sold in U.S. schools and encourage the consumption of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy items, according to a new poll. The research was commissioned by the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project, a joint project of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expected to propose such standards, and it is anticipated they will apply to snacks and beverages available in vending machines, school stores and cafeteria à la carte lines. Typical products sold in these venues include, but are not limited to, sugary drinks and salty snacks, slices of pizza, ice cream and French fries.
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These types of foods and beverages are sometimes called “competitive foods,” because they compete with school meals for students’ attention, spending and appetite.
Poll findings indicate voters are supportive:
- Eighty-one percent of voters report being concerned with childhood obesity, with more than half of these voters being “very concerned.”
- Eighty-three percent of voters said they think that food sold in school vending machines is not really healthy/nutritious, or only somewhat healthy/nutritious, compared with just 5 percent who think that vending machine food is totally or mostly healthy/nutritious.
- Sixty-eight percent of voters said they think that food sold in cafeteria à la carte lines is not really healthy/nutritious, or only somewhat healthy/nutritious, compared with 21 percent who think that it is totally or mostly healthy/nutritious.
- Sixty-eight percent of voters said they think that food sold in school stores is not really healthy/nutritious or only somewhat healthy/nutritious, compared with 10 percent who think that it is totally or mostly healthy/nutritious.
- Eighty-nine percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents and 71 percent of Republicans favor a federal rule to improve the nutritional value of competitive foods.
Despite increasing national attention to the issue of childhood obesity, students’ access to snack foods and beverages has increased over the past decade. According to USDA, the availability of vending machines in middle schools has more than doubled since the 1990s. Another study found that, as recently as the 2009-2010 school year, nearly half of the nation’s elementary students could buy unhealthy snack foods at school.
The existing standards for these school snack foods and beverages are 30 years old and do not reflect current nutrition science. Once the proposed updated snack food and beverage standards are published, USDA will accept public comments about them for 90 days. The final standards are expected to take effect in fall of 2013, and they will complement the plan announced by USDA in January 2012 to make school meals healthier.
Sign up for updates from the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project to learn how you can send your comments when the proposal is released.
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