The recently implemented school wellness policies have started to have an impact on the types of foods children have access to during the day, with schools already offering more fruits and vegetables, according to a report issued this week.
Released by the School Nutrition Association (SNA), A Foundation for the Future outlines key characteristics of local wellness policies approved by the largest 100 school districts in the United States.
Under terms of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, by July 1, 2006 every school that participates in the school lunch or school breakfast program- the large majority of US schools- had to have a local wellness policy in place.
The policy, designed to address the problem of childhood obesity, requires that schools set nutrition standards for all foods sold in school, including in vending machines, a la carte lines, and school stores.
Although the wellness policy is not federally regulated and is likely to differ form school to school, it contributes to addressing a loophole that allows the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to set standards for foods sold in the lunchroom, but forbids it from setting standards for foods sold elsewhere on campus.
And according to SNA, more fruits and vegetables and cafeteria-based nutrition education are just two of the many ways local school wellness policies are helping promote a healthy childhood weight.
The association's latest report revealed that the "large majority" of the nation's 100 largest school districts by enrollment are requiring nutrition education, adding recess and tightening nutrition standards.
Of these districts, which educate 23 percent of American students, more than 93 percent have passed a local wellness policy that addresses nutrition standards for a la carte foods and beverages.
Some 90 percent have addressed school meal nutrition standards, and 92 percent have addressed nutrition standards for food sand beverages available in vending machines. Furthermore, 97 percent now require nutrition education for at least some grade levels.
The new report comes on the back of an industry and government alliance that sets out voluntary nutrition guidelines for snacks sold in schools.
The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint initiative by former President Bill Clinton and the American Heart Association (AHA), earlier this month teamed up with Kraft Foods, Mars, PepsiCo, Dannon and the Campbell Soup Company to help encourage broad acceptance of the new guidelines by increasing the range of qualifying products available to schools.
The science-based nutritional guidelines promote nutrient-rich foods, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and place limits on calories, fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and sodium. The guidelines also promote the consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods.
As part of the commitment, the five leading food companies have said they will reformulate certain products, as well as introduce new lines of healthier snacks for kids.
An earlier agreement within the same alliance resulted in major beverage firms including the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, and Cadbury Schweppes voluntarily agreeing to stop selling high-calorie soft drinks to elementary and middle schools.
Initiatives at individual schools have also started to take effect. For example, two Chicago public schools, Namaste Charter School and Oscar de Priest Elementary, implemented a salad bar project together with lessons on nutrition, which resulted in the number of children selecting a salad bar item quadrupling within three months.
Other initiatives outside of schools include a report issued this year by two government offices - the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Health and Human Services - that recommends food companies and the Children's Advertising Review Unit of the set nutrition standards for products marketed to kids.
And the US government in recent months proposed that its Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutritional program should be revised for the first time in over 25 years in order to better reflect the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. As well as adding fruits, vegetables and whole grains, the proposed revisions would also provide greater amounts of nutrients such as iron, fiber and vitamin E. The new food packages would also provide less saturated fat, cholesterol, total fat and sodium than the current packages.
Even leading kids' entertainment brand Nickelodeon in July announced it was to team up with a number of US food firms to roll out new children-friendly fruit and vegetable products featuring some of its popular cartoon characters.
And in a move set to have major implications on the types of foods marketed to children, Disney this week announced that it will implement new nutritional guidelines for its licensed products.
Based on the US government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Disney's new policy means that it will only use its name and characters on kid-focused products that meet specific guidelines, including limits on calories, fat, saturated fat and sugar. It also plans to serve more nutritious options and eliminate trans fats from meals served throughout its entertainment parks.