- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

No potato chips, no Coke. Try carrots and nonfat milk, or perhaps fruit juice.

A new report from a congressional advisory panel backs substituting snack foods with healthy foods in the all of the nation’s schools.

Congress asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM), an independent government agency that provides advice on public-health issues, to write the first set of recommendations for food and drink sold in vending machines, school stores and fundraisers.

Among several nutrition guidelines that the institute recommends is a limit on the percentage of calories — 35 percent — that can come from fat and the elimination of food containing trans fat.

Sports drinks would be available on school grounds only to high school students at the discretion of coaches. The report also recommends that because diet soft drinks often supplant milk and fruit juices at meals, they be allowed only in high schools.

The report, composed by 15 public-health and nutrition experts, adds to the momentum for legislation that seeks to set a national, uniform standard for schools’ nutrition requirements.

An estimated 16 percent of children and teens are overweight or obese, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. With about 13 million overweight children, one in three are expected to develop type 2 diabetes.

Sens. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, and Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, are pushing legislation that would require the Department of Agriculture to update its school nutrition standards and require those standards be enforced on the entire campus throughout the day.

Current federal regulations restrict the sale of soda, types of candy and other foods of minimal nutritional value in the cafeteria and during mealtimes.

However, under federal law, schools are obligated to implement wellness policies that include nutrition goals that often go further than federal regulations.

“The IOM report is a scientific-based report; it is now the gold standard,” said Mr. Harkin, comparing the report with an industry-written set of voluntary school nutrition guidelines that are slated to go into effect in 2009. “They are an expansion of the voluntary guidelines and provide a more solid basis on where to go.”

Mr. Harkin said he intends to include the nutrition legislation in this year’s farm bill.

“I think it’s a good idea,” he said, adding that he is still reviewing the details in the report.

Through the federal school lunch and breakfast program, the government provides 9 million breakfasts and 30 million lunches to students across the country each year. But food nutrition advocates are targeting the sale of other foods because federal standards currently cannot dictate the quality of these foods and beverages. Children’s bag lunches would continue to not be affected by federal law.

Implementation of the guidelines would significantly affect the snack food and beverage industry.

In an agreement signed last year with the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, the industries attempted to pre-empt tougher federal standards by drafting voluntary nutrition guidelines.

The industry agreement is similar to the Institute of Medicine recommendations but differs on portion sizes and the differences of choices for high school students and elementary and middle-school children.

“We think we’re going the extra mile from what nutritionist are recommending,” said Susan Neely, president of the American Beverage Association. “But for high school kids, who are able to drive a car, it’s probably OK to have a diet soft drink.”

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