July 20, 2014

Schools will begin serving healthier snacks to curb calories for students

The latest round of federal guidelines for healthier food choices could mean fewer biscuits, doughnuts and bake sales for school fundraisers.

The latest round of federal guidelines for healthier food choices could mean fewer biscuits, doughnuts and bake sales for school fundraisers.

The Smart Snacks in Schools nutrition program, which took effect July 1 as part of the Healthy Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010, is tightening restrictions on snacks and beverages sold to students during the school day.

Among the new regulations is a requirement that snack items have 200 calories or less. Sodium must be 230 milligrams or less, although that number will drop to 200 milligrams in 2016.

Many Midlands school districts have been working on menu changes in advance of the new regulations, which set limits on calories, fats, sugar and sodium. But officials say fundraising groups could face challenges.

Libby Roof, a spokeswoman for Richland 2, said the district and its food vendor, Sodexo, have been phasing in healthier food items for four years, but some fundraisers may stop.

“The biggest impact is the food fundraisers. We have PTOs and booster clubs that sell stuff during the school day like biscuits in the car line,” Roof said.

“You can’t do that anymore. Sometimes these food sales are a mainstay for clubs to raise money, so they will have to look for creative ways to raise money because of the law.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture launched major reforms for school meals in 2012 to help children avoid the risk of shorter life expectancies and health problems, which in turn can create a greater economic burden for states, the agency said.

Fighting obesity

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, and more than one-third of children and adolescents in 2012 were overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of overweight, obese and inactive high school students in South Carolina is up, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, which published the 2011 S.C. Obesity Burden Report. In 2013, 30.7 percent of S.C. high school students were overweight or obese, up from 29.6 percent in 2011.

About 57.2 percent of those students were not physically active at least 60 minutes a day, five or more days per week, up from 56.6 percent in 2011.

Physical education regulations are still minimal, as students in kindergarten through grade five must have 60 minutes of P.E. and 90 minutes of planned physical activity per week.

P.E. must be included in the middle school curriculum, but there is no minimum time requirement.

High school students must complete one unit of P.E. unless enrolled in junior ROTC.

However, it’s not the physical education standards that are worrying some local school districts. Jim Hinton, a director of student services for Lexington 2, said his district already exceeds the standards for physical education.

“I don’t think we will adjust (physical education) at all,” Hinton said. “A lot of our schools, especially elementary, have adopted programs like Girls on the Run. Some of our schools have walking clubs, where students can walk on the track after breakfast and log some laps in. All of that is part of the overall fitness program.”

Hit to fundraising

Hinton, too, said some of the changes required by Smart Snacks in Schools could hurt fundraising for some clubs.

“If we can’t sell a candy bar anymore, what can we sell?” Hinton said. “This is going to hit our student groups, clubs and service groups. It is easy to sell food because people like food. We are going to have to get creative.”

Pat Carter, the food service director for Lexington 1, said the district has been working on healthier versions of favorite snack foods on the menu.

“The menus that we have for the schools were already in compliance with federal regulations,” Carter said. “Some of the things we had to address were the snacks. For instance, they still get cookies; they are just a healthier version.”

Carter said there was some initial pushback from students when new items, such as the healthier cookie, were introduced.

“At first sales dropped; the kids wouldn’t buy them.” Carter said. “But now they are back to where they were when we had the original cookie. It is just getting them used to it.”

Students no longer are able to refuse all the healthy options in the food line, since 2012 regulations required them to take at least a half-cup serving of a fruit or vegetable.

This fall, that portion will increase to a whole cup.

There are limits, too, on types of beverages, with portions differing by grade level.

All bets off after school

The new regulations also will require healthier food choices in vending machines, though many schools now have more nutritious options as new federal guidelines have been enacted over the past several years.

While the law regulates food sales during school hours, it does not apply to foods sold outside of school hours, including sporting events or special functions.

“Thirty minutes after the school day is over, you can sell anything and not be regulated,” said Leon Williams, food service director for the Sumter schools. “Our school meals have always been healthy meals, nothing has really changed with those. They can go to the vending machines throughout the lunch period, but all of those foods are being controlled by the Smart Snacks in Schools rule.”

The Sun News contributed.

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