Firms to Modify School Snacks

Published November 1, 2006

The William J. Clinton Foundation and five major food companies announced on October 6 that snacks sold to kids in public schools as part of school lunch programs and from vending machines on school property will contain less fat, sugar, and sodium.

The agreement follows a similar agreement brokered in May by the foundation with the nation’s three largest soft drink companies as part of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which works to reduce childhood obesity.

In both cases, the companies agreed to comply with voluntary standards set forth by the American Heart Association.

Healthier Snacks

Five of the nation’s largest food companies–Campbell Soup Co.; Groupe Danone SA; Kraft Foods, Inc.; Mars, Inc.; and PepsiCo Inc.–will change products sold in schools to reduce their fat, sugar, and sodium content.

Under the voluntary guidelines, less than 35 percent of an item’s calories can come from fat, and less than 10 percent from saturated fat. Additionally, each item must be free of trans fats and composed of less than 35 percent sugar by weight, with less than 230 milligrams of sodium.

According to an October 6 alliance news release, the five companies made the following commitments:

  • Mars, Inc., the company that makes Snickers, Twix bars, and M&Ms, will “launch a new line of nutritious products that meet or exceed the Alliance guidelines for children and teens in schools,” according to Jamie Mattikow, president of health and nutrition for Mars North America.
  • Campbell will promote the benefits of its products that are lower in calories, fat, and sodium and will leverage its expertise with lower-sodium natural sea salt to provide additional reduced-sodium soup options in food service.
  • Dannon will reduce the sugar content of its Danimals yogurt cups for kids by 25 percent, even though the products already conform to the guidelines.
  • Kraft will add the alliance’s sodium and calorie caps to its current vending guidelines.
  • PepsiCo will reformulate several products and encourage schools, distributors, and vending partners to offer products that meet the new alliance guidelines.

Soft Drink Agreement

In May, the alliance announced a similar agreement with soft drink companies. The American Beverage Association, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Cadbury Schweppes adopted guidelines whereby only bottled water, up to eight ounce servings of milk, and 100 percent juice beverages would be sold in elementary schools.

Rules for middle school are the same as for elementary school except juice and milk may be sold in 10 ounce servings. In high schools, the rules allow eight ounce servings of zero- or low-calorie beverages with up to 10 calories, low-fat and non-fat regular and flavored milk with up to 150 calories, 100 percent juice with no added sweeteners with up to 120 calories, and light juices and sports drinks with no more than 66 calories. Up to 12 ounce servings are allowed of milk, 100 percent juice, and light juice and sports drinks.

At least 50 percent of beverages offered in schools must be water and zero- or low-calorie options.

The guidelines doe not apply to sporting events, school plays, and band concerts where parents and other adults constitute a significant portion of the audience or are selling beverages.

A Good Start

“Ensuring that children have healthier food choices at school is another critical step in the fight against childhood obesity,” said former president William Clinton, founder of the Clinton Foundation.

“I’m proud of these five companies for making an important statement about this health challenge and an even more important commitment to doing something about it. What we are setting in motion with these guidelines will dramatically change the kind of food that children have access to at school.

“By considering the waist line as well as the bottom line, these leaders in the food industry are taking a huge step to ensure good health of our children,” said Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), who has worked on several obesity-related public health initiatives since dropping 105 pounds of his own a few years ago. “The fight against childhood obesity must be waged on many fronts, and I commend these companies for making a positive impact on our children.”

Next Steps Unclear

While voluntary initiatives to battle the nation’s growing obesity problem are widely welcomed, some free-market advocates expressed doubt about the approach taken by the Clinton Foundation. Linda Gorman, a senior fellow for economic and health care policy at the Independence Institute in Colorado, cited several studies published in medical journals earlier this year saying low-calorie, low-fat diets don’t necessarily curb childhood obesity.

“This obsession with what people eat simply distracts people from focusing on the real problem, which is calories in minus calories out,” Gorman said. “The distinction between healthy and unhealthy snacks is also vague–for people with normal blood pressure there is not much evidence that sodium matters.

“Nor is there much evidence that sugar is harmful if one is of normal weight,” said Gorman. “As far as I’m concerned, a healthy snack is any food that is part of a balanced diet and does not contain dangerous pathogens.”

Diana Ernst, a health care policy fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, said soft drinks are legal and “ultimately, parents should decide what’s sold in their kids’ schools, not Bill Clinton. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation means well with a new, voluntary program to promote healthy food and exercise in America’s schools. We should be careful, however, not to condone legislative or litigious pressure on the food and drink companies to change their marketing policies.”

Karla Dial ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.

For more information …

“Guidelines for Competitive Foods Sold in Schools to Students,” Alliance for a Healthier Generation, October 6, 2006,

“Healthy Schools Program Overview,” Alliance for a Healthier Generation,

“A State’s Battle Against Obesity: Arkansas Takes a Frank Look at its Weight Problem,” by Patricia Neighmond, National Public Radio, June 14, 2004,

“Lack of evidence on diets for obesity for children: a systematic review,” by L.J. Gibson, et al., International Journal of Epidemiology, September 19, 2006,