IOM Sets New Standards for School Foods

April 27, 2007

3 Min Read
IOM Sets New Standards for School Foods

While federal school-nutrition programs ensure that students have daily access to nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grain-based products, and nonfat or low-fat dairy products during the school day, additional opportunities available to schoolchildren offer less-healthy choices. A new Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, Nutrition Standards for Healthy Schools: Leading the Way toward Healthier Youth, recommends that competitive foods, those offered outside of the federal school-meal programs, should follow the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).

Commissioned by Congress, the report identifies an increasing number of opportunities for students to eat and drink, including à la carte services, vending machines, school stores, snack bars, concession stands, classroom or school celebrations, achievement rewards, after-school programs, and other venues, and encourages schools to limit these additional opportunities for food and beverage consumption. And when offered, the report concludes, they should be used to encourage greater daily consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nonfat or low-fat dairy products.

Some of the recommendations include:

Limiting the calorie content of snacks and drinks to no more than 200 per portion;

Offering items that contain no trans fatty acids, less sugar and sodium, and no more than 35% of calories from fat, with less than 10% from saturated fat;

Eliminating sales of sports drinks, soft drinks, water with additives and caffeinated drinks and replacing them with nonfat or low-fat milk or limited amounts of 100% juice, or offering free, safe drinking water.

The committee organized competitive foods and beverages into two tiers according to their consistency with the DGA:

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;

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.

Reaction to the guidelines was mixed. Groups such as the American Cancer Society, the American Dietetic Association, the National PTA and the National Education Association endorsed the report.

The difference between the current USDA and new IOM school-food standards is night and day, says Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Washington D.C., recommending that USDA adopt the standards. Congress should support parents and protect kids by having USDA bring its disco-era nutrition standards in line with modern science.

However, others thought the recommendations too restrictive. The narrow standards for the report's top-tier foods will effectively squeeze everything but fruit juice, nuts and a small assortment of produce out of the cafeteria snack bar, protests the Center for Consumer Freedom, saying the rules would judge whether fundraisers and bake sales qualify as nutritionally beneficial or whether sports drinks could be served at athletic events. Says the groups spokesperson, J.P. Freire: The focus should be on getting kids more active. They should not focus on telling parents not to bring cupcakes to school on their kids birthday.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Products Association (GMA/FPA) issued a statement from the groups senior director of nutrition and health policy, Alison Kretser, M.S., R.D., which says in part: The food industry is eager to help fashion bold, new and innovative approaches to the complex problem of obesity, and believe that schools are uniquely positioned to provide the proper direction and support as a partner in the fight against obesity.Viewing schools as a holistic platform for educating children on the best ways to live a healthy lifestyle, not simply as a place to ban or restrict the availability of certain foods, is the pathway to success. Todays IOM report shines an important spotlight on the issue of obesity, but ignores the tremendous progress that has been made in recent years in improving the school food environment?changes that were developed as the result of dialogue and collaboration between the food industry, educators, parents and health groups.

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