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 were first established under the 2004 Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, and have been required in school districts since 2006. A local wellness policy reaches beyond the cafeteria to the whole school community, and covers additional areas of student health, such as physical activity. The current rule (issued in July 2016 as a result of the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act) established more accountability for districts. Compliance with local wellness policies is also included in the state Administrative Reviews, which happen every three years.

Local wellness policies are unique in that they are intended to reflect the community served. They require action, cooperation, and implementation by a number of stakeholders: administration, educators, food services department, parents, and the broader community. 

 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. This excellent overview document by the CDC can be used for communications and establishing direction in collaborative efforts. Additionally, the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity updated their wellness policy assessment tool WellSAT 3.0, which includes the newest wellness policy requirements as a result of the HHFKA. This tool helps districts evaluate their current policies and identify ways to improve and amend them. The WellSAT website includes FAQs and detailed breakdowns of the assessment tool, which was originally developed by the Rudd Center in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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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