School snack regulation could lower obesity rates among US kids

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

The Smart Snacks in School Standard aims to get kids to make healthier choices. Pic: GettyImages/Julia_Sudnitskaya
The Smart Snacks in School Standard aims to get kids to make healthier choices. Pic: GettyImages/Julia_Sudnitskaya

Related tags Kelloggs Smart Snacks in School Standard Usda Dietary Guidelines for Americans Snacks Health and wellness Tony the Tiger

The implementation of the Smart Snacks regulation in American schools could reduce the rates of childhood type 2 diabetes and other food-related diseases, according to JAMA study.

The rate of type 2 diabetes has increased ‘significantly’ among American youths,​ thanks largely to the snowballing prevalence of obesity among the demographic.

Improving diet is one way to prevent the disease, and medical experts recommend this can be achieved by getting kids to make healthier food choices. The reality is that by middle school, kids are making their own dietary choices, especially when it comes to between-meal snacks and those consumed at school.

Upping the ante

Calling on schools to ‘get kids off the couch’


Breakfast cereal giant Kellogg is playing its part to get school kids moving and healthy.

Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes’ Mission Tiger – launched last year – has joined forces with The Aspen Institute’s Project Play to launch the first-ever search for the best middle school sports programme that any school can adopt, regardless of available funding.

According to a 2019 survey of American middle schools, six in 10 felt their athletic curriculum is underfunded, which accounts for the 47% of cuts to middle school sports programmes.

“Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes has long been dedicated to helping kids stay active, and just six months into Mission Tiger, we’ve helped more than 261,000 students gain better access to sports,” ​said Brant Wheaton, marketing director of Kellogg US Ready-To-Eat Cereal segment.

“Middle school is a time when many kids start to fall away from sports,”​ added Tom Farrey, Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program executive director.

“Through The Great Middle School Sports Search, our goal is to revitalise middle school sports by inspiring leaders to adopt models that serve the broadest reach of the student population.

“No one organisation alone can build healthy kids and communities through sports. It will take like-minded groups, even competitors, collaborating to get kids off the couch without running them into the ground.”

Employees of middle schools are encouraged to appl​y​ before March 30, 2020, with qualifying schools advancing to the next round. The winning school will receive $10,000, while four runner up schools will each receive $2,500.

The winners will be announced at the 2020 Project Play Summit to be held this autumn (fall).

Following studies conducted at the beginning of the decade that found snacks high in fat, sodium and sugar were common in American schools, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) set a new standard for foods and beverages sold in schools.

The Smart Snacks in School Standard is aligned with the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and has a double-prong aim to a) hike the availability of healthy snacks – whole grains, fruit, veggies and low-fat dairy – while b) cut the consumption of empty calories: high-calorie items heavy in solid fats, added sugar and sodium.

In 2014, Smart Snacks became mandatory in public schools in seven US states that participated in federal child nutrition programmes, including Arkansas, Washington DC, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi and Utah. The hypothesis was that Smart Snack would enforce better dietary decisions by school kids.

Is it effective?

To test the premise, researchers from Boise State University, Idaho, and the University of Illinois at Chicago collected data from 310 public schools in 30 states – including the seven where Smart Snacks is mandatory – to calculate the daily energy intake of 1,959 students between grades 1 and 12 (11-12 years old).

They found that solid fats and added sugars made up, on average, 25.7% of the daily energy intake for students in the states with laws and 28.4% of daily energy intake in those without.

Among all students, those in the seven Smart Snacks states consumed 53.9 fewer kilocalories (kcal) per day from solid fats and added sugars.​More of this difference came from solid fats (37.7 kcal) than added sugars (16.2 kcal).

The daily consumption of sodium did not differ between states.

Small changes over time

Although this may not seem like a significant reduction, the researchers argued incremental changes made every day can have long-term effects.

“Studies have shown that, over time, small changes in daily dietary intake can substantially improve health outcomes, including weight status and cardiovascular outcomes associated with consumption of solid fats and added sugars,”​ they added.

They concluded their findings support the implementation of similar regulations at a national level to combat diet-related illnesses among children.


Associations of state laws regarding snacks in US schools with students’ consumption of solid fats and added sugars

Authors: Lindsey Turner, Julien Leider, Elizabeth Piekarz-Porter, Jamie F. Chriqui

JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(1):e1918436


Incidence trends of type 1 and type 2 diabetes among youths

Authors: Elizabeth J. Mayer-Davis, Jean M. Lawrence, et al

N Engl J Med. 2017;376:1419-1429

doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1610187

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