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New Report Recommends Changes for Food Sold in US Schools

A new report -- commissioned by the U.S. Congress -- recommends strong nutritional guidelines for the food that is sold in the nation's schools. Existing federal standards apply only to food served in school cafeterias. This report takes aim at food sold in school vending machines and at snack bars. VOA's Carol Pearson has the story.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health describes childhood obesity as "epidemic in the United States." Currently one American child in five is overweight. To combat obesity, the U.S. Institute of Medicine put out a new report that recommends banning sodas, candy and high-fat foods like potato chips from school vending machines and snack bars. Congress commissioned the report.

Dr. Virginia Stallings, a pediatrician, chaired the committee that produced it. "Our society can really enrich the lives of students by doing this," she says.

Dr. Stallings says children get a substantial portion of their daily calories at school, so schools have an obligation to contribute to students' health. The report recommends replacing foods high in fat, sugar and salt with water, low fat milk, fruit juices, fruits and vegetables. It also recommends that snacks contain at least one serving of fruit, vegetables, whole grain or dairy products.

A not-for-profit consumer organization, Center for Science in the Public Interest, says the proposed new standards for snacks are far better than what are available now. Spokeswoman Margo Wootan says, "They are light years away from the current nutritional standards that are in place in schools."

The committee recommends that schools follow the same guidelines in providing healthful food at school parties and other school activities.

But a food industry representative challenges the idea that such changes will impact childhood obesity. Rick Berman is with the Center for Consumer Freedom. "They still totally ignore the elephant in the living room, which is how much exercise and physical activity you are enjoying."

Profits from vending machine sales may become slimmer. After schools in Washington, D.C., adopted a healthy snack policy, vending machine revenue dropped. Schools often get a portion of vending machine sales.

But report co-author Rosemary Dederichs, says healthy can also be tasty, and that it is up to the food industry to create tasty, healthful snacks. "I'm sure that the industry's going to get very, very creative and come up with some wonderful products."

The committee's recommendations cannot be enforced unless they are written into law. But bills are in Congress that would require nutritional standards for all food sold in schools, not just in cafeterias.