New federal rules on vending machines in schools are expected in the next few weeks

With new lunch standards set to kick in by next school year, the Obama administration is looking at its next target in the school food landscape: vending machines. New guidelines are expected to be released in the coming weeks “for foods that children can buy outside the cafeteria,” reports Ron Nixon of The New York Times. Kentucky already has some rules in place, may get stronger as a result of the new guidelines. (NYT photo by Kirsten Luce)

Students eat from one-fifth to one-half of their daily diet at schools, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 20 percent of American children are obese. As of 2007 in Kentucky, more than 37 percent of children were either obese or overweight, a study by the National Conference of State Legislatures shows. The administration wants to ensure that students eat what is good for them and avoid becoming overweight, Nixon reports, but there is strong pushback from the food and beverage industries.

A study by the National Academy of Sciences reports that about $2.3 billion worth of snack food and drinks are sold each year in schools nationwide. Schools have a stake in the fight as well, with candy sold in fundraisers often used to help pay for sports, music and arts programs. In Kentucky, the changeover to water, lowfat milk and fruit juices caused a downturn in revenue from the machines, but in most cases it appears to have rebounded to earlier levels.

The forthcoming guidelines are unknown, but officials predict they will be similar to the changes in the school lunch program, which reduced sugar, salt and fat. Those changes were a compromise after a fight between health advocates and the food industry. Nancy Huehnergarth, executive director of the New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance, said she expects another fight. “I think the food and beverage industry is going to fight tooth and nail over these rules,” she said.
In Kentucky, schools are not allowed to sell food that competes with the national school lunch and breakfast programs from the minute students arrive until 30 minutes after the last lunch period. Only water, 100 percent fruit juice, lowfat milk and any beverage that contains no more than 10 grams of sugar per serving are allowed to be sold in school vending machines, as per state mandate. There are no limits as to what foods or drinks that can be sold in fundraisers. (Read more)
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