Kevin Concannon currently serves as Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services in the United States Department of Agriculture. Working in partnership with state and local organizations, Food and Nutrition Service oversees child nutrition programs including National School Lunch, School Breakfast, and Summer Food Service Programs. More information can be found at http://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/smart-snacks-school.
Several recent media reports have misrepresented how the bi-partisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act’s Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards will impact school fundraisers like bake sales.
I’d like to set the record straight: the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not imposing federal restrictions on bake sales or fundraisers.
USDA has given states complete authority to set policies on fundraisers and bake sales that work for them. States are free to allow fundraisers and bake sales featuring foods and beverages that don’t meet the new standards during the school day if they choose. They, not USDA, are responsible for determining the number and the frequency of these events each year.
Even before the Act was passed in 2010, USDA made clear in a letter to Congress that it had no plans to limit bake sales and other fundraisers.
According to USDA research, prior to Smart Snacks, more than half of all schools did not hold fundraisers that sold sweet or salty foods. It is not surprising that many schools and states have now opted to continue those policies. That is their choice and a local decision.
Additionally, even in states that choose to require that fundraiser foods meet nutrition standards, there are reasonable limitations on when the state’s policy will apply. For instance, the standards only apply during the school day. Food sold at after-school sporting events, weekend school plays and other events is unaffected. It does not prevent band or athletic boosters or other fundraising organizations from hosting fundraisers after school or on the weekends. It also does not prohibit sales of foods meant to be consumed at home, like frozen pizzas and cookie dough, during the school day. Schools can also choose to hold as many fundraisers as they want during the school day that feature foods that meet the Smart Snacks standards. In addition, Smart Snacks does not have any bearing on the many non-food fundraisers that take place in schools.
All of these provisions apply in all states. And again, states can choose to allow fundraisers and bake sales with foods that don’t meet nutrition standards during the school day if they choose.
The Congressional intent is clear that the purpose of Smart Snacks is to improve the nutritional quality of certain foods and beverages sold in school, like those in vending machines. This work is particularly important, as we face a growing obesity crisis in this country. Two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese. One in five young adults is too overweight to serve in the military. At a treatment cost of $190.2 billion per year, obesity is not just a health issue. It is an economic and a national security issue that leaves this generation of children at risk of dying at a younger age than their parents for the first time in American history.
Recognizing that, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act on a bipartisan basis in 2010. The law directed USDA to set reasonable nutrition standards, based on recommendations from pediatricians and other experts, for foods sold to children at school. The law specifically directed USDA to consider special exemptions for school-sponsored fundraisers involving food.
We agree with and respect the intent of Congress to continue those time-honored traditions, which is why we chose not to regulate fundraisers or bake sales at the federal level and instead allowed states to determine their own policies. It is also important to note that Smart Snacks only applies to the sale of foods—foods brought to school in bagged lunches and treats for time-honored events like birthday parties, holidays and special events are not impacted by the standards.
Our children’s ability to learn in the classroom and reach their fullest potential depends on what we do right now to secure their future. Healthier meals and snacks at school—with flexibility, common sense, and occasional treats—are how we get there.