New school snack standards in Florida, along with efforts to ensure these standards are successfully implemented, are an important step forward in supporting a healthy weight for all Florida children.
When kids enter the school doors each day, getting the foods they need to succeed shouldn’t be a test. Implementing national standards for snack foods and beverages in schools helps make healthy food choices easier. Studies have shown that eating better helps students perform better in school. And forming strong nutritional habits early will help lead to a lifetime of better eating habits.
Last July, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new standards went into effect for the snacks and drinks schools sell in vending machines, school stores and a la carte lines. These foods tend to be higher in calories and lower in the nutrients kids need than what the main cafeteria line has to offer. These updated standards, called “Smart Snacks in School,” are a great start towards giving our kids the healthy choices they need in school. But that’s not the end of the story. Each state still gets to create policies that can either ensure all kids have “smart snacks” or, in some cases, policies that set kids up for unhealthy habits that can lead to diabetes and heart disease.
In anticipation of the rollout of the USDA guidelines, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDOACS) proposed an administrative rule change and announced a series of workshops to take public testimony on the issue. The American Heart Association staff and volunteers organized quickly to submit public comments and work with the media to urge the department to adopt strong nutrition standards for snacks sold in schools.
Their efforts paid off when FDOACS adopted a Competitive Food Rule that went into effect in September 2014 that fully aligned with the federal standards. However, advocates were disappointed in the number of fundraisers exempt from the nutrition standards – five for elementary schools and as many as fifteen in high schools.
This school year has included a great deal of work to ensure Florida schools have the resources and technical assistance they need to successfully implement the federal standards. Essential to their success, they have staff and training plans in place working directly with schools to swap out less healthy snacks for healthier ones and facilitate the movement forward efficiently.
In addition to state-level staff, and in accordance with the proposed rule on Local School Wellness Policy Implementation under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Florida is also requiring all schools to establish Healthy School Teams responsible for ensuring compliance with the new policy and implementation of the Smart Snacks Standards. These teams will include parents, students, school food service program representatives, school health professionals and other members of the public who are concerned with the health of Florida’s children.
Additional implementation resources include a robust Smart Snacks webpage dedicated to the new rule providing a webinar, easy to access tools from Alliance for a Healthier Generation and printable resources such as flyers for parents and students. All of these tools go a long way when schools are making sure they are in compliance with the news rules requiring all foods sold in schools to be primarily whole grains, fruit, vegetable, dairy or a protein.
Healthy school foods support the academic potential and health of all students by increasing participation in school meals and ensuring food they access in other places on school campuses are healthy.
This article was submitted by the American Heart Association.
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