Obama administration proposes new rules to limit marketing unhealthy food in schools

By Mary Clare Jalonick

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 25 2014 1:47 p.m. MST

Schools that don't want to comply could simply leave the National School Lunch Program, which allows schools to collect government reimbursements for free and low-cost lunches for needy students in exchange for following certain standards. Very few schools choose to give up those government dollars, though, and those that do tend to be wealthier.

The beverage industry — led by Coca-Cola Co., Dr. Pepper Snapple Group and PepsiCo — is on board with the move. American Beverage Association President and CEO Susan Neely said in a statement that aligning signage with the healthier drinks that will be offered in schools is the "logical next step."

"Mrs. Obama's efforts to continue to strengthen school wellness make sense for the well-being of our schoolchildren," Neely said.

Although Mrs. Obama lobbied Congress to pass the school nutrition bill in 2010, most of her efforts in recent years have been focused on the private sector, building partnerships with food companies and retailers to sell healthier foods.

The child nutrition law also expanded feeding programs for hungry students. The rules being proposed Tuesday would increase that even further by allowing the highest-poverty schools to serve lunch and breakfast to all students for free. According to the USDA and the White House, that initiative would allow 9 million children in 22,000 schools to receive free lunches.

The USDA has already tested the program, which is designed to increase participation for students and reduce paperwork and applications for schools, in 11 states.

The Obama administration will also announce new guidelines for school wellness policies. Schools have been required to have general wellness policies that set their own general standards for foods, physical activity and other wellness activities since 2004. But the new rules would require parents and others in the school community to be involved in those decisions.

Follow Mary Clare Jalonick on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mcjalonick

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