Wednesday, June 21, 2006

School Nutrition: Too Many States Not Making The Grade

This doesn't come as a big surprise to many of us who work in schools:
In the past year California, Connecticut, and New Jersey all made headlines for bumping soda out of schools and for otherwise improving the foods available to kids during the school day. But according to a year-end School Foods Report Card issued today by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the state of Kentucky has the strongest school nutrition policy in the land.

For the 50 states and the District of Columbia, CSPI evaluated the policies for foods and beverages that are sold in schools through vending machines, school stores, fundraisers, and a la carte foods-foods sold in the cafeteria alongside the federally subsidized school lunch program. CSPI looked at nutrition standards for foods and drinks, and the grade levels, hours, and locations on campus to which the states' policies apply.

Kentucky's school food policies were given an A-. The state only allows vending machines and school stores to sell food on campus in the afternoon, a half-hour after the last lunch period, and has strong nutrition standards for foods and drinks sold during the rest of the school day in all schools. Permitted drinks include 1 percent or fat-free milk, waters, 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, or other drinks with less than 10 grams of sugars per serving. For foods, Kentucky set reasonable standards for portion sizes, saturated fat, sugars, and sodium. The state got an A- rather than an A because of its weak beverage portion size standards, lack of limits on trans fat, and a loophole for a la carte foods (it allows any item that is a part of a reimbursable meal to be sold through a la carte).

Nevada, Arkansas, New Mexico, Alabama, and California all received B+s. Seven states received Bs or B-s; 15 states received Cs or Ds (the District of Columbia received a C), and 23 states received Fs.

Only ten states have school nutrition standards that apply to the whole campus and the whole school day at all grade levels. Nine states limit the saturated-fat content of school snacks, and only seven address trans fat, which, gram-for-gram, is even worse for children's hearts and health. Just five states set limits on sodium. Nineteen states limit added sugars.

"Although some local school districts have school foods policies that are far better than the state standards, far too many states allow way too much junk food in schools," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "With junk food tempting kids at nearly every other public place in America, schools should be one place where parents don't have to worry about what their kids are eating. States should continue to enact stronger nutrition policies, but since the school lunch program is, after all, a federal program, Congress should take action to ensure that all school foods are healthy."

Get the report card right here.

The nutritional value of meals served in school cafeterias were excluded from the study. My guess is that this was done because meals must meet federal nutritional guidelines.

Effective this August, teachers in our district here in California's "Imperial" Valley will no longer be permitted to give any candy, pizza, or other treats to students at any time.

We've been told that to do so would violate new federal statutes.
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