August 2007

When the Child Nutrition Act was reauthorized in 2004, it required school districts to establish “wellness policies” by 2006. These policies would provide minimum nutritional guidelines for the types of foods available to students. Because each school district could determine what restrictions to impose, however, in many cases those minimum standards have varied widely [see “School Snacks Under Attack”].

To address those differences, Congress asked the Centers for Disease Control and the Institute of Medicine to make recommendations for appropriate nutritional standards, according to the IOM. An April 2007 report from the institute, Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools: Leading the Way Toward Healthier Youth, covers those nutritional recommendations as well as guidelines for when, where, and what kinds of foods should be available to students.

If implemented, some activities that parent groups often engage in would be limited. Among other things, the “guiding principles” state that the federal school lunch program should be the main source of food and drink for children on campus; other access (such as at class parties or through vending machines) should be limited; and in cases where they are made available, foods and beverages should still meet the minimum standards laid out in the report.

The IOM report also addresses fundraising, recommending that sales of all food items on campus at elementary and middle schools meet the minimum standards.

However, the guidelines don’t address catalog fundraisers or sales of items meant to be consumed at home, such as pizza kits and cookie dough. And the institute takes a more reasoned approach regarding family events. Although it strongly encourages schools to provide foods that meet minimum nutritional standards for parent or family activities on campus, it notes that “attempting to regulate items sold at such events may be impractical and even undesirable.”