USDA Bans ‘Unhealthy’ Food from School Cafeterias, Campuses

US Department of Agriculture has announced new rules that will remove high calorie food and drink items from cafeterias and campuses of schools around the country. Mary Clare Jalonick reports that starting next year, items like full-calorie sodas, sports drinks and candy bars will no longer be made available either in lunch rooms or school vending machines. Instead, schools will sell diet drinks, granola bars and fruit.

The USDA has already been enforcing a healthier food mandate when it comes to school meals, but this week it announced that it will be expanding these rules to cover all items sold in schools. That will cover not only vending machines, but also everything sold a la carte anywhere on school grounds.

That includes snacks sold around the school and foods on the "a la carte" line in cafeterias, which never have been regulated before. The new rules, proposed in February and made final this week, also would allow states to regulate student bake sales.

The rules, required under a child nutrition law passed by Congress in 2010, are part of the government's effort to combat childhood obesity. The rules have the potential to transform what many children eat at school.

Many schools around the country already go beyond the initial requirements set by the USDA by banning unhealthy snack items from their hallways. However, some schools continue selling high-fat, high-sugar food items via methods not previously subject to USDA regulations, such as vending machines and secondary lunch lines. There, students who were not buying federally subsidized meals could instead purchase things like pizza and french fries.

The new rules would close this loophole by forcing schools to switch to a healthier menu — even in lunch lines that don't serve lunches funded by the USDA.

The rule would only allow sales in high schools of sodas and sports drinks that contain 60 calories or less in a 12-ounce serving, banning the highest-calorie versions of those beverages.

Many companies already have developed low-calorie sports drinks — Gatorade's G2, for example — and many diet teas and diet sodas are also available for sale.

Elementary and middle schools could sell only water, carbonated water, 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, and low fat and fat-free milk, including nonfat flavored milks.

One principle of the new rules is not just to cut down on unhealthy foods but to increase the number of healthier foods sold. The standards encourage more whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.

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