ALBANY, N.Y. — The United States Department of Agriculture struck a critical blow in the fight against childhood obesity Friday.
It took two years, but Friday, the USDA decided to eliminate the sale of all junk food in schools, which means vending machines and lunch lines will have healthier snacks instead.
“Schools are the place where some kids are getting two meals minimum and sometimes three,” said educator John Taylor.
The Smart Snacks in School proposal is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Schools Act pushed by senator Kirsten Gillibrand two years ago requiring the USDA to establish nutrition standards in schools.
According to Sen. Gillibrand, “eliminating junk food from schools and offering healthier snacks is the right thing to do to keep our children healthy, and on a path to success.”
Parent Fabienne Jubiter is all for the idea. She says her 6-year old daughter already has had four cavities from sugary beverages.
“A lot of kids her age don't even go to the dentist. So just imagine, by the time they get to middle school how many cavities they have already,” said Jubiter.
And then there's the bigger problem of childhood obesity. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey revealed that approximately 17 percent of children ages two to nineteen years of age are obese. And that that number has tripled since 1980 especially among minority and low-income children.
“It's important that schools not only support nutritious meals for students, but also teach kids what it means to be a healthy eater,” said Taylor.
The USDA's proposal includes:
- Promoting the availability of healthy snack foods with whole grain, low fat dairy, fruits and vegetables or proteins foods
- Allow variation by age group for beverage portion size and caffeine content
- Allow states and schools that have stronger policies to keep them enforced
“I think it's an opportunity, like learning lessons, you see what it's doing to the generation today, and it's an opportunity to say what can we do better to enhance the healthiness of our kids growing up,” said parent Nilsa Velilla.
This ruling only applies to food sold on school campus during school hours. Restrictions on foods sold at after-school events aren't affected.
These changes will take about a year to go into effect after official rules and restrictions are finalized.