Proposed Nutrition Standards for Competitive Foods Will Help Combat Obesity, a Known Cause of Cancer

ACS CAN Applauds New Limits on Calories, Sugar and Sodium for All Snacks and Beverages Sold During the School Day

February 1, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. – February 1, 2013 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service released strong proposed regulations today that establish science-based nutrition standards for all snack foods and beverages sold in schools during the school day.

Often referred to as competitive foods because their sale “competes” with that of school meals, these snack items include anything sold a la carte in the cafeteria, in vending machines and through school stores and snack bars. The USDA proposed regulation sets limits on calories, saturated and trans fats, sugar and sodium for all snack foods and requires that they contain whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy or lean protein.  Beverages are limited to water, low-fat and fat-free milk and 100 percent juice in elementary and middle schools, with additional beverages allowed in high schools.

“Evidence shows that approximately one-third of all cancer deaths are attributable to poor diet, physical inactivity and overweight and obesity,” said John R. Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society. “These new standards are essential to creating a school environment that supports good choices that are critical to reducing the risk of childhood obesity, and that sets the stage for lifelong, healthy eating.”

Signed into law in December 2010, the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act required the USDA to develop national nutrition standards for all foods and beverages sold in schools outside of the school meal programs. The proposed regulations set a minimum baseline for states, localities, school districts and schools, which may establish stronger nutrition standards within their jurisdiction. Currently, the only federal standard for competitive foods is a restriction on the sale of “foods of minimal nutritional value” – such as certain types of candy and soda – in the cafeteria during meal times.

“We are pleased with the USDA’s strong proposal, which will ensure our children have healthy options throughout the school day,” said Chris Hansen, president of ACS CAN. “These important proposed regulations signify the first time this country will have national nutrition standards for all food sold to kids during school.”

There is strong public support for national nutrition standards in American schools. According to a 2012 Pew Charitable Trusts and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation poll, 80 percent of public school parents and 80 percent of registered voters support having national nutrition standards for competitive foods.

The proposed nutrition standards for competitive foods build on the science-based nutrition standards for school lunches that took effect last fall. These school lunch standards significantly improve the nutritional quality of school lunches by imposing calorie limits on meals, increasing the amount and variety of fruits and vegetables and the amount of whole grains, allowing only fat-free or low-fat milk and limiting saturated and trans fat. Similar nutrition standards for school breakfasts are set to take effect beginning next school year. The nutrition standards for competitive foods will complement the strong standards for school meals and ensure that children only have access to healthy foods and beverages during the school day.

ACS CAN, the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, supports evidence-based policy and legislative solutions designed to eliminate cancer as a major health problem. ACS CAN works to encourage elected officials and candidates to make cancer a top national priority. ACS CAN gives ordinary people extraordinary power to fight cancer with the training and tools they need to make their voices heard. For more information, visit

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