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Policy statement: Snacks, sweetened beverages, added sugars and American schools

14 / 04 / 15

The aim of this policy statement by The Council on School Health is to provide an update on progress since the policy statement ’Soft drinks in Schools’ in 2004 was implemented and to highlight new opportunities for improving the nutritional quality of food in schools.

The policy statements outlines optimal nutrition needs for children and adolescents, the various  sources of food available in schools, policies  and standards already implemented in schools and current consumption of food and beverages in schools.

Although a lot has been achieved to date in the American School system by local, state and federal regulations and policies, as well as the development of healthier products by industry, there is still regular access to high energy and low quality foods and beverages in schools.

To improve children’s diets, The Council on School Health supports the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), and advocates the promotion of nutrient-rich foods within calorie guidelines rather than simply advocating the elimination of added sugars. They say sugars consumed in nutrient-poor foods and beverages are the primary problem to address, not the sugars themselves. 

Soft drinks, sugar, and sweets are more likely to have a negative impact on diet quality, whereas dairy foods, milk drinks, and pre-sweetened cereals may have a positive impact. Consumed within recommended calorie amounts, sweetness can offer an effective tool to promote consumption of nutrient-dense foods and beverages. For example, flavoured milk has added sugar yet is nutrient-dense. When some schools decided to ban flavoured milk, despite them being permitted by federal nutrition standards, this resulted in increased milk wastage and reduced milk consumption by children. Without this milk at school, overall dietary quality and calcium intake is compromised.

The Council says care should be taken when prohibiting sugar-containing products to avoid compromising overall nutrition among children.

They suggest the following to move school food toward the DGA:

  • Select from the five food groups
  • Provide a broad variety of food experiences for children
  • Avoid highly processed, energy-dense foods
  • Use the minimum amount of added sugar necessary to promote the palatability, consumption and enjoyment of nutrient-rich foods
  • Adhere to portion size recommendations of USDA nutrition standards