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Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools: Leading the Way Toward Healthier Youth
History of Federal Legislation and Regulation of Competitive Foods
Competitive foods have been a controversial issue for more than 35 years. The Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (Pub. L. No. 89–642) authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to promulgate regulations necessary to carry out the mission of the government for child nutrition programs. In 1970, out of concern for the growing trend of “junk foods” (foods of minimal nutritional value) being offered in the public schools, the Child Nutrition Act (Pub. L. No. 91–248) was amended to give the Secretary authority to issue a regulation concerning competitive foods (Griffith et al., 2000). The resulting regulation stipulated that (1) competitive foods and beverages available in cafeterias during meal periods had to contribute to reimbursable meals; (2) the revenue from competitive food sales would accrue to the nonprofit food service account; and (3) food and beverage sales elsewhere in the school could not occur at times and places that competed with the federally reimbursable lunch program (Garnett et al., 2006). As a result of this amendment, many schools lost revenues on which they had come to depend. In 1972, in response to pressure from the school community, student organizations, and companies selling foods and beverages to schools, Congress once again amended the Child Nutrition Act (Pub. L. No. 92–433) to permit revenue from competitive foods and beverages to accrue to the school, approved school organizations, or the school’s food service unit (Griffith et al., 2000). This change resulted in an increased presence of vending machines and other competitive food and beverage venues in schools to gain revenue for school activities. The 1973 regulation also directed state agencies to establish regulations and instructions to control the sale of competitive foods and beverages.
In 1977, due to concerns about the quality of children’s diets and inconsistent state regulations, Congress amended Pub. L. No. 95–166 to stipulate that the sale of competitive foods and beverages was subject to approval by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (Garnett et al., 2006; Griffith et al., 2000). This statute gave the secretary authority to regulate which items would be allowed as competitive foods. In April 1978, USDA proposed a rule that established a definition for nutritious and non-nutritious foods. This proposed rule prohibited the sale of foods in four categories: all candy, soda water (soft drinks), frozen desserts, and chewing gum. However, there were no nutrition standards for these categories. Sales of these items were prohibited throughout the school until after the last lunch period (GAO, 2004). In response to this proposed rule, USDA received more than 2,100 comments, of which 80 percent were in favor of the proposed rule. Of these, 40 percent wanted the list of prohibited foods expanded or the time restrictions on sales extended (Garnett et al., 2006). In December 1978, USDA withdrew the rule to consider strengthening it and to provide additional opportunity