Important to have healthy snacks at school

To the editor:

For the first time in more than 30 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has updated the nutrition standards for snack foods and beverages sold in schools. Many children spend more time in school than any other place besides home. While at school, they consume up to half of their daily calories. On average, 40 percent of students buy and eat one or more snacks at school.

Many area schools have been working voluntarily over the past several years to increase healthy snack food choices for their students. With the new USDA regulations taking effect for the 2014-15 school year, many schools will begin offering students snack food choices this year that meet the guidelines of the new standards and lead to better health. These standards include portion size control as well as calorie, sodium and fat limitations to help increase the nutrient density and decrease the “empty calories” that some snacks provide.

Studies have shown that children and teens gained less weight over three years if they lived in states with strong policies on school snacks than if they lived in a state without such standards. The USDA recognized that although thousands of schools across the country have already voluntarily implemented nutrition standards for snack foods and beverages, now is the time for all students to have access to the healthier options. With one in three children overweight or obese, it’s important to make sure that all school foods are nutritious. Providing a year until the standards take effect allows schools to help students transition their snack choices to healthier options over time. Updating national guidelines for snack and a la carte foods in schools means that healthy choices are the easy choice for students.

Christa VanCour

Senior public health educator

Healthy Schools NY