School Food Rules — Sensible or ‘Draconian’?

[before-and-after chart of new USDA standards]

USDA Standards

In 2012, the journal Pediatrics published the results of a study of the effect of “competitive foods” in schools. Those are snacks and drinks available from vending machines and snack bars, which compete with the meals provided by the school’s food service department. For the New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise described how researchers compared the progress of kids in states that had no regulations against competitive foods with states where weak laws were in effect, as well as states with strong laws.

The study tracked weight changes for 6,300 students in 40 states between 2004 and 2007, following them from fifth to eighth grade…. Students who lived in states with strong laws throughout the entire three-year period gained an average of 0.44 fewer body mass index units, or roughly 2.25 fewer pounds for a 5-foot-tall child, than adolescents in states with no policies….

The study also found that obese fifth graders who lived in states with stronger laws were more likely to reach a healthy weight by the eighth grade than those living in states with no laws.

Another thing they learned was that weak laws are the same as no laws at all. Other studies showed similar results, and strict regulation appeared to be the only answer. Since then, the federal government has decided to be a strict regulator.

Starting in July when the rules change, “competitive” products can still be stocked by vending machines and school snack shops, but they will not have the same allure. Items that qualify as entrees will be limited to 350 calories and snacks to 200 calories, and they must consist of acceptably healthful foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, or lean protein.

Any item sold on the school grounds will have to be free of trans fats and derive no more than 35% of its calories from fat. A sweet item can only be 35% sugar, and sugar-sweetened beverages will be excluded. The only permitted beverages will be water, fat-free or low-fat milk, and 100% fruit or vegetable juice. CNS News reporter Barbara Boland calls these rules “draconian.”

Really? “Draconian” means drastic, stringent, harsh, extreme, severe, and cruel. The Greek lawmaker Draco decreed that a person could be sold into slavery for owing money, or be sentenced to death for stealing a cabbage. The worst that will happen to a school violating the new food rules is loss of federal funding, which by all accounts is shrinking into near-invisibility anyway.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Study Links Healthier Weight in Children With Strict Laws on School Snacks,” NYTimes.com, 08/13/12
Source: “USDA Bans Junk Food in Schools – Will Salty Snacks Move to Black Market?” CNSNews.com, 04/14/14
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