Wednesday, October 4, 2023
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USDA to Expand School Wellness Programs

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Food and Nutrition Service plans to require school districts participating in national school lunch or breakfast programs to expand their wellness programs.

The 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act expands on previous school lunch legislation that requires school districts to develop school wellness policies, with nutrition and physical activity goals, among other things.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has proposed creating a more detailed framework for the contents of school wellness policies, with long- and short-term goals, and measurable objectives with the specifics of who will do what, and when.

Examples of wellness goals schools can achieve would be provided through the USDA's "Smarter Lunchroom" resource, which has information from a number of scholars on "evidence-based, simple, low-cost and no-cost changes" to school meals, according to FNS.

Those strategies "are shown to improve student participation in [school meal programs] while encouraging consumption of more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and decreasing plate waste," the agency wrote.

The agency suggested including nutrition education in health classes and integrating it into other subjects, incorporating movement into other subjects besides physical education, holding contests, surveys and food demonstrations, and putting up informational posters in common areas.

Marketing of foods and drinks that are "low in nutritional value and high in sugar and fat" in schools also is addressed in the proposal. Most schools do not ban companies from advertising unhealthy foods, and the agency seeks comment on the definition of "food marketing" within schools.

"Research has found that the financial impact on schools of prohibiting food marketing in schools would not likely be significant," the agency wrote, noting a study finding of corporate marketing revenues amounting to "0.01% of the schools' yearly operating budgets."

Moving forward, the agency seeks comments from stakeholders about the "current food and beverage marketing environment in schools," such as the kinds of foods being advertised to students and the impacts they have on students' food choices, health and academic performance.

School districts would be required to keep written records showing they are compliant with their school wellness policy obligations, under the new rules.

Comments on the proposal are due by April 28.

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