Competitive Foods in Schools
The school environment is one of several settings that can influence children’s food choices and eating habits. Schools can ensure that the available food and beverage options are healthy and help young people eat food that meets dietary recommendations for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nonfat or low-fat dairy products.
What Are Competitive Foods?
In addition to school meals, which are required to meet federal nutrition standards, many students also have access to other foods and beverages in school cafeterias, vending machines, stores, and other venues. These foods and beverages are sometimes called competitive foods because they “compete” with school meals. Many competitive foods are high in added sugars, fat, and sodium.1,2
At this time, no federal regulations exist for other competitive foods that are not specifically identified as foods of minimal nutritional value (FMNV).3,4 However, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 allows the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop and update federal nutrition standards for competitive foods consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. USDA’s proposed rule, released on February 8, 2013, outlines the minimum nutrition guidelines for competitive foods and beverages outside of the federal reimbursable school meals program that are sold on school campuses during the school day. Additionally, states and local education agencies are able to adopt nutrition standards for all competitive foods in schools.
Institute of Medicine Report: Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools
To provide schools with guidance on improving the foods and beverages offered to students, CDC conducted a study with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to review the science and make recommendations about nutrition standards for foods and beverages offered in direct competition with school-provided meals and snacks. The study resulted in a report entitled, Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools: Leading the Way toward Healthier Youth. The IOM recommendations serve as the gold standard for the availability and content of competitive foods in schools.
Competitive Foods and Beverages in U.S. Schools: A State Policy Analysis
To determine how closely state competitive food policies align with the IOM’s Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools, CDC conducted an analysis of state laws and policies (as of October 1, 2010) that regulate the availability and content of competitive foods in schools. A codebook was developed by CDC researchers to guide the coding and analysis of state policies. As of October 2010, 39 states had adopted policies for competitive foods in schools, but the content of these policies varied by state and grade level.
Successfully Implementing Strong Nutrition Standards for Competitive Foods and Beverages: Case Studies of School Districts
To illustrate how schools and districts can implement strong nutrition standards for competitive foods without significant financial losses, CDC supported a study by the Illinois Public Health Institute (IPHI) and the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) to examine eight school districts across the country. IPHI published findings and case studies in the report Controlling Junk Food and the Bottom Line: Case Studies of Schools Successfully Implementing Strong Nutrition Standards for Competitive Foods and Beverages. Schools can use this resource to find examples of implementation strategies used to overcome challenges and support strong nutrition standards in schools.
What You Can Do
CDC developed a set of four audience-specific fact sheets as a resource for school staff, parents, and young people to use to support and develop strong nutrition standards that can impact the health of students at school. These fact sheets are designed to answer commonly asked questions about the IOM’s Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools report and provide recommendations for implementing the standards.
- For Parents, Guardians, Teachers, and School Staff [pdf 1.5M]
- For School Boards, School Districts, and Other School Administrators [pdf 482K]
- For School Nutrition Service Personnel [pdf 2.6M]
- For Students [pdf 826K]
Use CDC’s fact sheet series as a resource to help develop and support strong nutrition standards for foods and beverages in schools:
- Review your school wellness policy to help ensure that the nutrition guidelines align with the IOM standards and that students have access to healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or nonfat dairy during each school day.
- Examine the actual foods and beverages that are available to students including foods and beverages sold in vending machines, school stores, snack bars and as a' la carte items and determine if they meet the nutrition standards.
- Educate students about nutrition, offer and promote healthy food and beverage choices that meet the nutrition standards.
- Fox MK, Gordon A, Nogales R, Wilson A. Availability and consumption of competitive foods in US public schools. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2009;109:S57–S66.
- Government Accountability Office. School Meal Programs: Competitive Foods Are Widely Available and Generate Substantial Revenues for Schools. Washington, DC: Government Accountability Office;2005. GAO Publication no. GAO-05-563.
- National School Lunch Program, Competitive Food Services, 7 C.F.R. Sect. 210.11 (2012).
- School Breakfast Program, Competitive Food Services, 7 C.F.R. Sect. 220.12 (2012).
- Adolescent and School Health
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