US formulates nutrition standards to curb rising obesity among kids

2 May, 2007: The health officials of the United Sates, worried about and aiming to check growing obesity rate among American children, have come up with nutrition standards for foods and beverages in federal school meal programs.

According to the nutrition plan, potentially unhealthy foods available to elementary, middle and high school students from cafeterias, snack bars and vending machines are to be curbed.

The report titled Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools: Leading the Way to Healthier Youth was released on April 25, 2007, by the Institute of Medicine and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was commissioned by US Congress.

Lisa Harper Mallonee, a registered dietician and assistant professor of dental hygiene at Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry, called the recommendations wonderful but stressed that intensive efforts will be needed to put them into practice.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prevalence of overweight among children aged 6 to 11 has more than doubled in the past 20 years, vaulting from 7% in 1980 to 18.8% in 2004. Among teens, the rate of overweight more than tripled – from 5% to 17.1%.

This unhealthy trend may have been caused partly by high-calorie, low-nutrient foods available in schools. Unlike foods from federally reimbursable school nutrition programmes, these foods do not have to conform to any nutritional guidelines or recommendations.

One report found that nine out of 10 schools sell so-called competitive foods in snack bars and vending machines. “It goes beyond obesity,” an expert said. “Our kids are a lot sicker than they ever were before.”

Local education agencies were required to develop wellness policies by 2006. Though steps were taken, progress has been uneven. The new report was partially intended to augment these policies.

The committee, which authored the report Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools: Leading the Way to Healthier Youth, first divided foods and beverages into two tiers based on how well they conform to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Tier 1 foods and beverages provide at least one serving of fruit, vegetable and/or whole grains or nonfat/low-fat dairy.

Tier 2 items do not meet Tier 1 specifications, but are not entirely outside the recommendations for dietary intake. These might include baked potato chips, low-sodium, whole-wheat crackers or animal crackers.

The committee then developed the following set of standards:

  • Snacks, foods and beverages should derive no more than 35% of total calories from fat, less than 10% of total calories from saturated fats and be fat-free.
  • Snacks, foods and beverages should get no more than 35% of calories from total sugars, unless they are 100% fruit or fruit juices without added sugars, 100% vegetables and vegetables juices without added sugars and unflavored, non-fat and low-fat milk and yogurt.
  • Snack items should be 200 calories or less per portion. A la carte entrees should not exceed calorie limits on comparable National School Lunch Program items.
  • Snack items should have 200 milligrams of sodium or less per portion as packaged or 480 milligrams or less per entree portion if served a la carte.
  • Beverages containing non-nutritive sweeteners should only be allowed in high schools after the end of the school day. No recommendations on non-nutritive sweeteners in food were given.
  • Available foods and beverages should be caffeine-free, except for trace amounts of naturally occurring caffeine-related substances.
  • Foods and beverages offered during the school day should be limited to those in Tier 1.
  • Plain, potable water (that is, not carbonated, fortified or flavoured) should be made available throughout the school day at no cost to students.
  • Sports drinks should not be made available, unless they are provided by the school for student-athletes participating in sports programmes involving high-intensity activity for more than one hour at a time.
  • Foods and beverages should not be used as rewards or for disciplinary purposes.
  • Marketing of Tier 2 items should be minimised by locating distribution in low student traffic areas and ensuring that exteriors of vending machines meeting certain standards.
    Tier 1 snack items should be permitted for after-school student activities for elementary and middle schools. Tier 1 and Tier 2 snacks should be allowed after school for high schools.
  • Only Tier 1 items should be permitted for elementary and middle school on-campus fund-raising that takes place during the school day. Both Tier 1 and Tier 2 foods and beverages should be allowed for high schools. For evening and community activities that include adults, both Tier 1 and Tier 2 foods and beverages should be encouraged.




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