USDA Announces Additional Efforts to Make School Environments Healthier
Washington, DC, July 21, 2016 – Today, the Obama Administration is announcing four final rules that implement important provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) building on the progress schools across the country have already made in the improved nutritional quality of meals served in schools. As a key component of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to raise a healthier generation, the rules will ensure that children have access to healthy snacks and that nutrition standards for the foods marketed and served in schools are consistent. The rules will also promote integrity across the school meals programs.
"I am thrilled with the progress we continue to make in building healthier learning environments for our kids with science-based nutrition standards for all food sold and marketed in schools. As a mom, I know how hard parents work to provide nutritious meals and snacks to their kids, and we want to make sure we support those efforts with healthy choices at school," said First Lady Michelle Obama. "I am inspired by the tremendous work that's being done in schools across the country to provide our kids healthy food to fuel them throughout the day so that they can grow up healthy and fulfill their boundless promise."
"Children's ability to learn in the classroom and reach their fullest potential depends on what we do right now to ensure their health," stated Secretary Vilsack. "The actions we are announcing today continue the Administration's unprecedented commitment to building a healthier next generation and institutionalize the positive changes schools across the country have already made."
The Smart Snacks in School final rule aligns the nutritional quality of snacks sold to children during the school day with the science-based improvements made to school lunches and breakfasts over the last five years. These include using practical, science-based nutrition standards that ensure children are offered more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. States have the flexibility to allow limited exemptions to school-sponsored fundraisers during the school day. The Smart Snacks standards were implemented in the 2014 – 2015 school year in accordance with the interim final rule. This final rule makes modest improvements to those standards based on public comments and lessons learned from implementation.
The Local School Wellness Policy final rule ensures that any food or beverage that is marketed on school campuses during the school day meets the Smart Snacks standards. According to a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 70 percent of elementary and middle school students are exposed to some kind of food/beverage marketing through school. Many of the foods and beverages that are heavily marketed to children contribute to poor diet quality, high calorie intake, and excess weight gain. However, the majority of schools do not have policies restricting food and beverage marketing to children. This rule makes sure foods offered and marketed to students during the school day have consistent nutrition standards.
The Local School Wellness Policy final rule also empowers communities to take an active role in the health of their children. It requires schools to engage parents, students and community members in the annual development and assessment of local school wellness policies. These policies guide a school district's efforts to establish school environments that support healthy eating and physical activity. States and local communities will have flexibility in developing a policy that works best for them.
Also posted today were the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) final rule and the Administrative Review final rule. Under HHFKA, CEP allows schools and local educational agencies with high poverty rates to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students to promote access to healthy food and reduce administrative burdens on schools and families. The final rule streamlines administrative processes, making it easier to participate in the meal programs. More than 18,000 schools in high poverty areas currently participate in CEP, which is now in its second year of nationwide implementation offering nutritious meals at no cost to 8.5 million students.
The Administrative Review final rule updates the administrative review process used by state agencies to monitor federally-funded school meal programs. It safeguards the integrity of the programs, ensures taxpayer dollars are being spent as intended, and increases accountability and transparency by publicly posting how well school food authorities are complying with various requirements. State agencies began implementing the updated review process in school year 2013-2014, and currently 95 percent of state agencies are already implementing the updated administrative review process.
The rules announced today are part of implementing the HHFKA where more than 52 million children now have healthier school environments than ever before with over 98 percent of schools meeting the healthier meal standards. In addition, research shows that under the updated standards nearly 80 percent of schools offer two or more vegetables at lunch and consumption has increased by more than 16 percent. This is especially crucial for the approximately 15.3 million American children that live in food insecure households, many of whom rely on school meals as a consistent source of nutritious food.
Key improvements to child nutrition programs implemented under the HHFKA include:
- Improving the nutritional quality of all food in schools to reflect recommendations from the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans;
- The rapid growth of farm to school efforts to more than 42,000 participating schools;
- Improvement of direct certification efforts with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to increase the number of eligible children enrolled in school meal programs;
- Implementation of national professional standards for all school nutrition employees who manage and operate the school meal programs;
- Expansion of the At Risk After School Meals Program to all states;
- And the first major revision of the Child and Adult Care Food Program nutrition standards since the program's inception in 1968.
To better assist schools with these improvements, USDA also implemented mentor-based training for school nutrition professionals through the Team Up for School Nutrition Success initiative. More information about USDA's efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and support the health of our next generation can be found on USDA's Medium chapter, Growing a Healthier Future.
In total, USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs. In addition to National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, these programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the summer meals programs, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which together comprise America's nutrition safety net.