Wellness Policy and Smart Snacks

Overview

The school’s role as a promoter of student health, physical activity, obesity prevention, and nutrition awareness and education is being firmly established under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The Smart Snacks in Schools interim rule that took effect in July 2014 establishes nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools beyond the NSLP programs, and later in 2014 a new interim rule will take effect for the updated Local Wellness Policy requirements in school districts. Combined, these two areas provide a distinct framework for communities to address and support childhood health and wellness in their schools. These rules have the potential to be ground breaking if parents, district administrators, principals, teachers, and the food service directors are all at the table working together.

Local Wellness Policy

Wellness policies, which were first established under the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, have been required in school districts since 2006. Expanded requirements for local school wellness policies were set forth in section 204 of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA). A proposed rule that would oblige all local educational agencies participating in the National School Lunch Program and/or the School Breakfast Program to meet those requirements is expected to be finalized sometime in mid- to late 2014. Meanwhile, in the 2013–14 school year, school districts were asked to begin re-examining their policies.

Wellness policies are unique in that they require action, cooperation, and implementation by a number of stakeholders: the administration, the educators themselves, the food services department, the parents, and the broader community. The USDA proposal states:

The provisions of this proposed rulemaking would ensure local educational agencies establish and implement local school wellness policies that meet minimum standards designed to support a school environment that promotes sound nutrition and student health, reduces childhood obesity, and provides transparency to the public on school wellness policy content and implementation.

A number of excellent resources are available to begin and continue the community effort required by a substantive wellness policy. The USDA website and the CDC website offer a collection of resources for all stakeholders. An excellent overview document was created by the CDC that can be used for communication and establishing direction in the collaborative effort of developing a wellness policy. Furthermore, to assist in the transition process, the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity has recently updated their wellness policy assessment tool called WellSAT 2.0, which now includes the newest wellness policy requirements as a result of the HHFKA. The tools help districts evaluate their current policies and identify ways to improve and amend them. On the WellSAT website are FAQs and detailed breakdowns of each section of the assessment tool, which was originally developed by the Rudd Center in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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Smart Snacks in School

On July 1, 2014, the new regulations that were developed under the HHFKA to address all foods sold in schools (aka “Smart Snacks in School”) came into effect. These regulations are one of the final pieces of the new meal pattern rule that began to be implemented in 2012. Smart Snacks addresses all foods sold in schools during the school day–not only in the cafeteria for breakfast and lunch, but anywhere on school campuses. The Smart Snacks standards can be helpful when evaluating a district’s wellness policy, as the stakeholders may need to address how schools support health and wellness beyond the nutrient value and quality of the food served for reimbursable meals.

Smart Snacks in School Standards

  • Support for serving more of the foods children should be encouraged to eat
  • Support for serving less of the foods children need to be taught to avoid
  • Targeted beverage standards that vary by age group
  • Flexibility for special events like school parties and bake sales
  • A long enough timeline for implementation to allow school districts to resolve the operational challenges presented by the new regulations

Food service departments that have been relying on the sale of competitive foods for part of their income may find it more difficult to comply with the Smart Snacks regulations. Many states across the country, however, have enacted their own legislation regarding the nutritional value of food sold and served in schools outside of the cafeteria. A 2012 report by the CDC analyzed the 39 states that had passed legislation, revealing the depth of the public’s interest in diet and their concern about the health problems that can affect children who habitually consume foods with little or no nutritional value.

The implementation of Smart Snacks in Schools is just at its beginning stages. The USDA has a wealth of information available on its Smart Snacks resources page. The Lunchbox will be tracking the news from around the country this year, and will bring some stories “from the front lines” to highlight the methodology and impact of the Smart Snacks rule as schools take on the next wave of HHFKA regulations.

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