Implementing Wellness Policies: Product Availability and Cost
June 5, 2007 -- One challenge to implementing local school wellness policies and promoting healthy eating habits for children is the limited availability of affordable foods and beverages that meet school nutrition standards.
The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 mandated that school districts approve local school wellness policies by July 2006. Local wellness policies cover four components: nutrition education, physical activity, other school based activities and nutrition standards for all foods available on campus during the school day. As school district nationwide conclude the first school year of policy implementation – the School Nutrition Association (SNA) continues to look at the challenges associated with implementation and how school nutrition professionals are overcoming the hurdles.
In early May, a web-based survey of school nutrition directors asked about challenges associated with wellness policy implementation. Among the top challenges identified by SNA members relating to implementation of nutrition standards included in wellness policies were the prices of products that meet nutrition standards (62%) and finding products that meet standards (50%.) For the thirty states that have set state-level nutrition standards during the past five years, local wellness policies must also reflect required state nutrition standards. Anecdotally, small and medium sized school districts, and school nutrition programs that are not part of purchasing cooperatives are having the most difficult time finding food, snack and beverage items that meet local and state nutrition standards.
With over 30 different state nutrition standards, several national voluntary standards and thousands of local wellness standards, finding food and beverage items that fit a specific set of nutrition standards that are also available in a particular geographic area is no easy task. The cost of food items tends to be greater for products that are lower fat, have less saturated fat, less sugar, fewer calories, no trans fat, less sodium and more whole grains. One uniform nutrition standard set and regulated by the US Department of Agriculture for foods and beverages available in schools could serve to lower the cost.
In one rural district of just over 6,000 students in eastern New Mexico, it has been a challenge to find affordable food items that meet the state nutrition standards for a la carte foods: items must have no more than 400 calories per container or per package or amount served; and no more than 16 grams of fat per container or per package or amount served, of which no more than 2 grams come from saturated and trans fats combined; and no more than 30 grams of total sugar per package or amount served. The result has been a decrease in revenues from a la carte and a need to raise the price of school lunches.
Coping with a similar challenge of trying to find products that meet state and local standards, the school nutrition department in a 2,200 student rural district in southern Pennsylvania began creating their own products, doing more in-house baking to reduce the amount of total fat in food items. In a rural district of 3,200 in central Louisiana the school nutrition director took another approach, actively networking with vendors and neighboring districts to locate products that meet state nutrition standards.
There are several web-based tools that seek to help school nutrition programs find products that meet nutrition standards as well as vendors or distributors that carry those products. Among the tools available are the following:
Listing of companies offering items for sale to the school foodservice market. Links to company sites that may provide nutrient and purchasing information.
John Stalker Institute ‘A’ List
Includes nutrient information and distributor contact information. The thirty five page list and separate list of distributors is tailored to Massachusetts and the Northeast but could apply elsewhere.
List of Snacks Meeting Connecticut’s Healthy Snack Standards
List of items that meet Connecticut state nutrition standards, including vendor information and all nutrient information. Sixteen lists broken down by product type with separate vendor list.
Vending Snacks Meeting Recommended Criteria - Louisiana Department of Education
Four page listing of snacks that meet Louisiana state nutrition requirements – includes serving size. Does not list specific nutrient information for each snack or vendor available.
Alliance for a Healthier Generation Healthy Schools Product Navigator
Listing of items that meet Alliance competitive food or beverage guidelines – does not list nutrient information of products or information on obtaining products.
Web-based calculator tool from Seattle Public School Nutrition Services Department helps one determine how various snack food items relate to a particular state or school district's nutrition standards or policies