Student Well-Being

Students “Still Too Fat To Fight,” Report Warns

By Nirvi Shah — September 25, 2012 2 min read
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A group of retired military leaders is pushing for regulations about what’s sold in school vending machines—regulations the U.S. Department of Agriculture has the authority to issue but hasn’t yet.

In a report today, Mission: Readiness decries the amount of junk food sold in public schools. One comparison: The 400 billion junk food calories consumed by students each year, converted to candy bars, would equal more than 2 billion such treats—and weigh more than the aircraft carrier Midway.

The nonpartisan group notes that national surveys conducted for the military and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 1 in 4 young adults would be ineligible to serve in the military because of excess body fat. That’s quite a reversal from a generation ago: The National School Lunch Program was created after World War II because soldiers were arriving for training malnourished.

“As a nation, we acted decisively to improve our children’s nutrition after World War II and we should do so again,” the report says.

School lunch and breakfast standards were rewritten this year, requiring schools to serve more fruits and vegetables and more whole grains and fewer calories, fat and sodium. Those regulations are the result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which also allows the USDA to create rules about what can be sold in school vending machines and on a la carte lunch lines. Proposed regulations were expected earlier this year. Laws limiting the sale of high-calorie foods and drinks in schools have been shown to reduce students body-mass-indices. And school vending machine revenues aren’t guaranteed to plummet when sodas and chips disappear.

In August, the USDA told me that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wants more time to review standards the agency has developed “to ensure that we do what is right for kids in a way that is workable to the school districts that will be charged with implementation.”

On their own, many schools have been cutting back on selling soda.

But Mission: Readiness wants widespread regulations to take effect. “Getting the junk food out of our schools is the obvious next step in our efforts to address the childhood-obesity crisis,” they said in their report “Still Too Fat to Fight,” which follows up on the group’s 2010 report.

The longer the USDA waits to issue proposed regulations, the longer it will take for them to go into effect. For example, if the USDA proposes regulations in October and takes a year to finalize them, they would take effect in October 2013. But schools don’t have to fully implement such changes for a year after they’re adopted. So fast-forward to October 2014. And schools also don’t have to implement changes mid-year. Spring forward yet again to the 2015-16 school year for these rules to become effective. That’s the same year the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the current version of the Child Nutrition Act, will be up for renewal.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.