The act, entitled the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, is primarily intended to provide healthier school meals as part of a wider effort to combat childhood obesity. It could also lead to restrictions on selling sugary beverages and candy in school vending machines, as well as à la carte.
The American Beverage Association (ABA) said today that it welcomes the legislation, pointing to voluntary moves the beverage industry has already made to reduce the amount of sugary drinks sold to children in American schools.
ABA president and CEO Susan Neely said in a statement: “We applaud Chairman Miller, Chairwoman Lincoln and their colleagues in the House and Senate for their hard work and commitment to advancing this bill. It is truly a landmark piece of legislation that will help ensure the health of our nation's young people by giving them nutritious food and beverage options in schools."
The ABA claims to have already reduced the amount of calories available to school children from sugar-sweetened beverages by 88 percent since 2004. The organization’s voluntary guidelines allow for only 100 percent juice, low-fat milk and bottled water in elementary and middle schools, and diet soft drinks, calorie-capped sports drinks, flavored waters and teas are also allowed in high schools.
Cautious response from confectioners
Meanwhile, the National Confectioners Association has not taken a position on the legislation, saying that it supports efforts to reduce childhood obesity, including the ‘Let’s Move’ campaign, and favors “uniform federal nutrition standards for competitive foods sold in schools”.
In a statement provided to FoodNavigator-USA.com, the organization said: “The Child Nutrition bill which passed the Senate last week requires that the US Department of Agriculture establish nutritional criteria for all food sold in schools during the school day. It is all but certain that most confectionery products would not meet these criteria.”
The act has also been welcomed by health and nutrition advocates.
Executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest Michael Jacobson said: "Put simply, it will get junk food out of, and put more healthy food into, America's schools. It preserves the free and reduced-cost meals that many families depend on in an economic downturn. And it supports farmers by improving farm-to-school programs.”
The act now moves onto the House, where it is also widely expected to pass, before national child nutrition programs expire on September 30.