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No More Junk Food in Schools, Says USDA's New Nutrition Rules

Justin Sullivan / Getty

New snack rules from the USDA eliminate unhealthy snack options in schools and help limit students' exposure to junk food advertising. Guidelines like these have been rolling out over the last few years as part of First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign. The goal is to encourage children to eat better by improving their food options and providing them with healthier alternatives in the meals they eat at school.

As students gear up to return for another school year, they might notice a distinct difference in snack options at their schools. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finalized their Smart Snacks in School rule last week. These official guidelines regulate which snacks can be offered in schools and how snacks can be marketed to students.

The guidelines require that snacks must be under 200 calories. They must also meet strict sodium, fat, and sugar limits. Part of the guidelines' focus is on offering higher quality snacks, so gone are the days where refined wheat and sugar top the ingredient list. Instead, schools are only allowed to bring in snacks that have a fruit, vegetable, dairy, or protein source as a first ingredient or are a whole grain-rich food.

While it helps to only have healthy options on hand, students can still be influenced by junk food advertisements in schools. The American Psychological Association has found a distinct correlation between food industry advertising and childhood obesity. The Smart Snacks in School rule bans advertising of any food products that don't meet their nutritional guidelines, meaning those drink machines full of water and juices can no longer have soda brands pasted across the front.

The Smart Snacks in School program meets the health standards championed by First Lady Michelle Obama in the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which is part of her "Let's Move" initiative to combat childhood obesity. According to the USDA, more than 98 percent of America's schools already meet these healthier meal standards.