Five major US food manufacturers have joined an alliance designed to establish voluntary nutrition guidelines for snacks sold in the nation's schools. As part of the commitment, the companies have said they will reformulate certain products, as well as introduce new lines of healthier snacks for kids.
Kraft Foods, Mars, PepsiCo, Dannon and the Campbell Soup Company on Friday said they aim to help encourage broad acceptance of the new guidelines by increasing the range of qualifying products available to schools.
A joint initiative by former President Bill Clinton and the American Heart Association (AHA), the Alliance for a Healthier Generation said its 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.
"What we are setting in motion with these guidelines will dramatically change the kind of food that children have access to at school. It will take time, but through coalitions like this of industry and the non-profit sector, we are going to make a real difference in the lives of millions of children by helping them eat healthier and live healthier," said Clinton.
As part of the move, Dannon plans to reduce the sugar content of its Danimals yogurt cups for kids by 25 percent; Mars will create a new line of "nutritious" snacks for kids designed to meet the Alliance guidelines; Campbell said it will promote its low fat, calorie and sodium soups as well as provide additional reduced sodium soups; PepsiCo said it would also reformulate "several products" ; and Kraft said it will add the Alliance's sodium and calorie caps to its current vending guidelines, and extend them to include all of its competitive foods sold in schools.
The Alliance said that with these key companies on board, it expects its guidelines to have a "real impact" across America.
But consumer groups remain skeptical, saying the agreement is non-binding and would be ineffective.
Commercial Alert, a non-profit public health group, said that because the agreement is voluntary, there remains a risk that industry can back away from it. And the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said that although it commended the development, the voluntary guidelines should not be seen as a substitute for legislation.
Indeed, bipartisan legislation is currently pending in both houses of Congress that would have the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) update its nutrition standards for foods sold out of vending machines, school stores and other venues outside the nutritionally regulated school lunch program.
But although some states, municipalities and schools have already adopted their own nutrition standards, this agreement claims to be the first move to bring together industry leaders in a nation-wide initiative.
"By considering the waist line as well as the bottom line, these leaders in the food industry are taking a huge step to ensure good health of our children. The fight against childhood obesity must be waged on many fronts and I commend these companies for making a positive impact on our children," said Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee on Friday.
According to a report issued this month by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), one third of American children are either obese or at risk for obesity. And the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that in the past quarter century, the proportion of overweight children aged 6-11 has doubled, while the number of overweight adolescents has tripled.
The Alliance for a Healthier Generation was set up in May 2005 in an effort to help combat the rising epidemic. The Alliance launched its Healthy Schools Program in February this year in order to encourage the establishment of certain nutritional and physical education standards in schools.
In May this year, it announced an agreement with leaders in the beverage industry to sell only water, unsweetened juice and low-fat and non-fat milk in elementary and middle schools.
The Alliance has also partnered with the number one kids' television network Nickelodeon on the Let's Just Play Go Healthy Challenge - an on-air, online and grassroots effort to mobilize kids to adopt healthy lifestyles. To date, over 100,000 kids have pledged to Go Healthy as a result of the campaign.
For more information on the latest agreement, click here .