HIA: Students more likely to buy healthier lunches if there are nutritional standards for snacks, drinks

June 26, 2012, Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project News Release

Updating national nutrition standards for snack foods and beverages sold in schools could help students maintain a healthy weight and increase food service revenue, according to a health impact assessment (HIA) released today by the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project and the Health Impact Project.

The findings come as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prepares to issue policies requiring that food and beverages sold outside of federal school meal programs meet minimum nutrition standards. These items sold in vending machines, school stores, and cafeteria a la carte lines are often called “competitive foods” because they compete with school meals for students’ spending.

The projects, both collaborations of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, conducted this HIA to examine how the USDA’s updated nutrition standards would affect student health. It also looked at the potential impact such changes could have on school revenue.

This HIA marks the first time such an evaluation has been completed to inform a new federal rule and is one of the most comprehensive scientific reviews ever conducted on competitive foods. Vetted by a wide array of experts, the peer-reviewed research includes an assessment of more than 300 studies and original economic data analyses.

“The evidence is clear and compelling,” said Jessica Donze Black, director of the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project. “Implementing strong national nutrition standards to make the snacks and beverages our children consume healthier is something that schools and districts can afford. The USDA should do all it can to finalize and help implement strong standards.”

The HIA found that national nutritional standards for snack foods and beverages would reduce the consumption of these items during the school day. With many children eating roughly half of their daily calories at schools, new guidelines will likely have a meaningful impact on student weight. For example, the spike in childhood obesity that occurred between 1988 and 2002 could have been substantially decreased by a modest reduction of just 110-165 calories a day.

The report also showed that many schools may be losing money from their food services departments when students buy snack foods instead of healthier breakfasts or lunches. School districts in states with nutrition standards for snack and a la carte foods and beverages saw total food- service revenues generally increase after the guidelines were put in place. This is largely because more children will purchase school meals if there are fewer items competing for their lunch money. …


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