Why Sugary Foods Are So Plentiful In U.S. Schools

Sugar is one of the main ingredients in the American diet and sadly one of the most common foods fed to children: from chocolate milk to vending machines sugar is plentiful in American schools. My 10 year old nephew said to me a few weeks ago, “Too many kids at my school drink the chocolate milk. It’s not good for them!”

A Grist writer worked in his daughter’s Washington, D.C. area school for a few days, and the report back on the breakfast menu was a bit shocking: Kellogg’s Crunchmania Cinnamon buns, chocolate- or strawberry-flavored milk, and grape juice. the packet of Crunchmania contains 13 grams of sugar or three teaspoons, chocolate milk contains 26 grams of sugar, and the four-ounce container of grape juice has 18 grams of sugar.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Pyramid, used by teachers across the country to teach children about nutrition, has not set official guidelines for sugar intake. Ah, but there is more. Federal regulations for school food programs do not limit sugar in subsidized meals. Therefore, our tax dollars are paying for children to eat sugary foods. In 1977, a Senate committee recommended an upper limit of 10 percent of daily calories from added sugars, but from 1980 to 2000 Dietary Guidelines did not list percentages when it said, “east less sugar.”

The 1992 USDA Food Pyramid said, “Use sugars in moderation.” The USDA defined moderation as six teaspoons a day of total added sugars for a diet containing 1,600 calories, 12 tsp. for 2,200 and 18 tsp. for 2,800. In other words, less than 10 percent of daily calories should come from sugar. However, the less than 10 percent limit was never added to the Pyramid.

In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report stating an upper limit of 10 percent of calories from added sugars, but U.S. sugar lobbying groups managed to get the attorney for the Dept. of Health and Human Services to write a letter to WHO threatening to withdraw U.S. funds if the recommendation was not removed. The recommendation was subsequently removed.

There is a saying, “As California goes, so goes the nation.” In 2007 California’s school food nutrition standards bill regulated soda sales in schools and the amount of sugar in snacks. “Companies responded by reducing the sugars in their products,” said Marion Nestle, a nutrition and policy expert, in a monthly column for the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Child Nutrition Act must be reauthorized by Congress by September 30. The Child Nutrition Act pending re-authorization says that “science-based nutrition standards” for school food should be established. It also says that “both the positive and negative contributions of nutrients, ingredients, and foods,” including added sugars, should be considered when establishing the nutrition standards.

Retired military leaders recommended that the Congress pass “new child nutrition legislation” in a report by Mission Readiness titled, “Too Fat to Fight: Retired Military Leaders Want Junk Food Out of America’s Schools.” The report calls for Congress to pass legislation which would rid schools of junk food, and support increased funding to improve nutritional standards of food served in schools.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

3 responses

  1. In the 2010 Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee transcripts, Dr. Joanne Slavin, Professor, University of Minnesota, chair of the Carbohydrate Committee, said it is okay for us to consume up to 25 percent of calories as sugar! She said we can consume this much sugar without causing calcium excretion. Also, she supported the 65 percent of calories from carbohydrates. Dr. Slavin is from the University of Minnesota's nutrition department, which is supported by General Mills and corn syrup producer Cargill! Also, its no surprise that she declined to single out high fructose corn syrup as a “bad carbohydrate.” There is a direct link from her testimony to the amount of sugar and corn syrup eaten in our schools.

  2. It's time for them to set standard on the amount of sugar that can be consumed check the nutritional content of foods that's being offered in school. Government should act on this if they want to see a healthier citizen in the future.

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