Report could revamp U.S. school nutrition standards

April 26, 2007 in Nutrition for Children and Teenagers, Nutrition Topics in the News

Report could revamp U.S. school nutrition standards

A new report issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) could lead to a major overhaul of the types of competitive foods allowod in  U.S. schools.

Released yesterday, the report recommends that competitive foods - or foods available outside of the federal school meal programs - should be consistent with the nation's 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) if they are to be allowed at all.

The report recommends that if competitive foods are available in schools, these should consist of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nonfat or low-fat milk and dairy products.

IOM's Nutrition Standards for Healthy Schools: Leading the Way toward Healthier Youth report lays out a set of guiding principles to improve child nutrition through healthy school eating environments.  Federal school nutrition programs need to be the primary source of foods and beverages offered at schools, it says, but a set of nutrition standards need to be established for other foods sold.

The report categorizes products allowed for sale in schools into two tiers.  Tier 1 foods and beverages provide at least one serving of fruit, vegetables and/or whole grains, or nonfat/low-fat dairy products and are foods to be encouraged, said IOM. Tier 2 foods and beverages fall short of meeting Tier 1 criteria, but they do not fall outside the DGA recommendations, and so are allowed, but only in specific circumstances.

Tier 1 foods must be limited to 200 calories per portion and must contain no more than 35 percent of total calories from fat, and less than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fats.  They must be 'trans-fat free', which means they are allowed a maximum limit of 0.5g trans fat per serving.

They must also be limited to 35 percent or less of calories from total sugars, except for yogurt with no more than 30g of total sugars, per 8-oz portion.  Sodium content must be limited to 200mg or less per portion.

Tier 1 beverages consist of water with no flavorings, additives or carbonation; 100 percent fruit juice; and low fat (1 percent milk fat) or nonfat milk - including lactose-free and soy beverages as well as flavored milk with no more than 22g of sugars per 8-oz serving.  All beverages must be caffeine free, with the exception of trace amounts of naturally occurring caffeine substances.

Tier 2 snack foods have the same calories, fat, sugar and sodium limits as Tier 1 foods.

Tier 2 beverages include nonnutritive-sweetened, non-caffeinated, non-fortified beverages with less than 5 calories per portion.

IOM said it took a "cautious approach" to nonnutritive sweeteners (for example sugar substitutes like aspartame and saccharin).  The committee considered four issues: safety, displacement of other foods and beverages that should be encouraged, effectiveness for weight control, and the role of choice and necessity.

It concluded that beverages containing such sweeteners - like sodas - should be allowed only in high schools, and only after the school day has ended.  The committee did not make any recommendations regarding foods containing nonnutritive sweeteners.

IOM's report is the result of a need identified by the US government to implement consistent nutrition and wellness policies in the nation's schools. 

Yesterday's report was met with a flood of approval from nutrition associations and consumer groups, such as the American Society for Nutrition (ASN), the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the School Nutrition Association (SNA).  However, one concern expressed by SNA was the successful implementation of the standards, and the lack of enforcement of voluntary nutrition standards.

Industry groups were also supportive, though more reserved.   

To view the IOM report brief, click here.

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