I still remember how my mom would occasionally give me an extra fifty cents to buy an ice cream cone or a cookie during lunch. It was a once-in-a-while thing — she didn’t let my brothers and I have a ton of junk — and always felt super special. In recent years, however, I’ve noticed that more and more kids come to school and wind up eating purely the fattiest, sweetest stuff they can get their hands on. And it’s really easy, too: the school is the one selling it. But new FDA regulations have been proposed that would decrease the amount of school junk food available.
The government released its proposed ideas on what will be the new standards for “competitive foods,” i.e. food items that are not a part of the regular school meals. Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary, stated, “Good nutrition lays the groundwork for good health and academic success.” And he’s absolutely right: time and time again, studies have shown how your diet impacts concentration, productivity and wellbeing, as well as sleep (which affects just about everything regarding your health), so these regulations might considerably affect performances of the two-thirds of American students who can purchase outside foods during school.
The proposed standards, many of which are based on recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, would require that all competitive foods must:
- Be under 200 calories per portion.
- Be a vegetable, fruit, dairy product, whole-grain-rich grain product, protein food or combination food containing 1/4 cup of vegetables or fruit. Or they can contain 10% of a public health concern nutrient like fiber, calcium, potassium or vitamin D.
- Contain no trans fat, with a few exceptions such as reduced-fat cheeses and nuts.
- Meet their regulations for fat, sugar and saturated fat.
Additionally, beverages will have to be either water, unflavored low-fat milk or milk alternatives, or 100% vegetable or fruit juice. For high school students, lower calorie and flavored or unflavored carbonated water would be introduced into the option mix.
Before anybody rushes to assume kids will be eating carrots and celery instead of birthday cake, the proposed regulations would not affect concession stands at sports, holidays, birthday parties, fundraisers, bake sales or celebrations.
Of course, being under 200 calories per portion means that snack foods can get away with being included provided they have smaller calories per portion, yet multiple portions per package (and really, there aren’t too many people who are excellent at regulating themselves once something resealable has been opened).
The earliest that these regulations can be put into effect is the 2014-15 school year, a year after the final rules may pass.
One of the main arguments I hear regarding food regulations in school is that it takes away children’s right to choose. However, school constantly takes away your right to do whatever you want for the sake of productivity and education. You’re not allowed to talk because it’s disruptive to yourself and others; you can’t just wander whenever you feel like it because you won’t get an education and it’s unsafe; the state chooses what you learn and teachers choose how you learn it because, chances are, you don’t yet know how to educate yourself on these concepts, no matter how much you may dislike the teaching style. Regulations are set to keep kids in a safe, productive learning environment, and letting them eat a ton of junk food isn’t exactly conducive to that.
While I think there’s a certain sweet (literally) nostalgia to eating a cupcake during lunchtime, I am also in support of things that encourage healthiness among students. They can always go home and eat junk food anyway, so why not allow them to receive primarily a healthy diet during the school day, thus giving them the tools to concentrate and learn as well as possible? Plus, this might help them make better choices when bell rings, thus decreasing out obesity epidemic’s growth. Keeping kids healthy should be a priority, so perhaps these proposed regulations can have a positive effect on the youth as a whole.
Photo: Jeff Adair / Flickr