- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

12:09 p.m.

Millions of children soon could be saying goodbye to regular colas, candy and salty snacks during school hours.

Concerned about the rise of obesity in young people, Congress has asked the Institute of Medicine to develop a set of standards for foods that would be available in schools.

The institute responded today with a two-tier system designed to encourage youngsters to eat more fruit, vegetables and whole grains and avoid added sugars, salt and saturated fats.

“The alarming increase in childhood obesity rates has galvanized parents and schools across the nation to find ways to improve children’s diets and health, and we hope our report will assist that effort,” said Virginia A. Stallings, chairman of the committee that prepared the report.

“Making sure that all foods and drinks available in schools meet nutrition standards is one more way schools can help children establish lifelong healthy eating habits,” said Ms. Stallings, director of the nutrition center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

And don’t think their recommendation applies only to children. The committee also urged that Parent Teacher Associations adhere to the same standards, as should food items sold at school fundraisers.

Foods sold in school cafeterias under federally assisted lunch programs already must meet nutritional standards. The Institute of Medicine recommendation covers items considered competitive with those foods, such as items sold in vending machines and other food and drinks sold in the school but not under the federal program. The standards would not apply to bag lunches that students bring from home.

The report now goes to Congress for consideration. Copies also will go to the Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Education, and it will be available for state and local school boards and administrators and the food and beverage industry.

Putting the recommendations into practice would involve federal, state or local laws and setting school standards and policies.

“For the first time, we have gold-standard recommendations for school nutrition standards from one of America’s most distinguished scientific bodies. And as it turns out, they are also just common sense — promoting fruit and vegetable consumption, and also seeking to reduce things like calories, fat and sodium,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat.

Mr. Harkin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the “recommendations offer a tool kit for local, state and federal policy-makers who already know that we need to do more, much more — to promote sound child nutrition and prevent childhood obesity.”

Foods listed as Tier 1 would be allowed at all grade levels during the school day and during after-school activities.

These foods would have to provide at least one serving of fruits, vegetables, whole grains or nonfat or low-fat dairy; would be limited to 200 calories for snacks; and would have limits for fat, sugar and salt.

Examples of Tier 1 snacks are whole fruit, raisins, carrot sticks, whole-grain low-sugar cereals, some multigrain tortilla chips, some granola bars and nonfat yogurt with no more than 30 grams of added sugars. Entrees could include such items as fruit salad with yogurt or a turkey sandwich. Beverages would be limited to plain water, skim or 1 percent milk, soy beverages and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice.

The institute recommended that because of their calorie content, juices be limited to 4-ounce servings for elementary and middle-school students and 8-ounce portions for high school students.

Tier 2 foods would be available only to high school students and only after school hours.

These foods would be limited in calories, salt, sugar and fat, and the drinks could have just five or fewer calories per portion and no caffeine. They are not vitamin- or mineral-fortified but may be carbonated and may contain flavoring or a sugar substitute.

Examples include single servings of baked potato chips, low-sodium whole-wheat crackers, graham crackers, pretzels, caffeine-free diet soda and seltzer water.

At the discretion of coaches, sports drinks would be available to students engaged in an hour or more of vigorous athletic activity.

The committee said fortified water should not be available in either tier.

The Institute of Medicine is a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, an independent organization chartered by Congress to advise the government on scientific matters.

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