NEW YORK - New voluntary health guidelines for food sold in schools could equate to healthier products on supermarket shelves.
Campbell Soup Co., Dannon, Kraft, Mars and PepsiCo have signed on to the initiative to combat childhood obesity that was announced here earlier this month by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation - a joint initiative of the William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association.
For their part, the five participating manufacturers will introduce new and reformulated products to their school offerings that already meet the newly established guidelines.
The guidelines cover foods sold outside of the reimbursable meal program, including those sold in school vending machines, on a la carte lines, at snack bars, in school stores and through fund-raisers. They include fruits, vegetables, soups, yogurt, chips, chocolate, crackers, cookies, candy, ice cream, granola bars, nuts and seeds.
Some of the healthier products will replace or be added to those currently distributed to food retailers.
"What we are setting in motion with these guidelines will dramatically change the kind of food that children have access to at school," former President Clinton said in a statement. "It will take time but through coalitions like this of industry and the nonprofit sector, we are going to make a real difference in the lives of millions of children by helping them eat healthier and live healthier."
Developed by AHA nutritionists in conjunction with manufacturers, the guidelines promote the consumption of fruit, vegetables, nutrient-rich foods, fat-free and low-fat dairy products and place limits on calories, fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and sodium. For most foods, the guidelines permit no more than 35% of calories from total fat, no more than 10% of calories from saturated fat and no more than 35% sugar by weight.
Although its Danimals yogurt cups for kids already conformed to the new guidelines, White Plains, N.Y.-based Dannon reduced the sugar content of the product by 25%, according to spokesman Michael J. Neuwirth. "The reformulation is not specific to supermarkets or food service," he said of the product that will be introduced in both channels this month.
As part of its compliance effort, Kraft, Northfield, Ill., will add sodium and calorie caps to previously self-imposed limits on fat, saturated fat and sugar, explained spokeswoman Claire Regan. The manufacturer has yet to decide whether it will distribute the reformulated products to supermarkets.
McLean, Va.-based Mars' Snickers candy bar falls short of the guidelines, but the manufacturer plans to introduce a new line of nutritious snack products with the specific needs of children and teens in mind. Subsequent to the line's introduction in schools, Mars will shop it around to additional venues, spokeswoman Alice Nathanson said.
"Some of the products will be sweet snack foods and others will be savory snacks," she said. "For years, we've been researching nutrition and we have the expertise to make nutritious products that taste great."
Although its Baked Lay's offerings already comply with the guidelines, PepsiCo, Purchase, N.Y., will invest in reformulating several of its products and also encourage schools, distributors and vending partners to offer products that meet the new Alliance guidelines.
Camden, N.J.-based Campbell's Pepperidge Farm cheddar goldfish and about 30 varieties of its soup currently meet the standards, explained spokeswoman Juli Mandel Sloves. It plans to 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.
The Alliance is hoping to grow its partnerships.
"We approached several additional large manufacturers who decided not to participate," explained AHA spokeswoman Carrie Thacker. "We hope that these large manufacturers have a change of heart. Additionally, we will now actively encourage small to midsized manufacturers to join with us."
The development of the guidelines was led by AHA scientists using the 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines, 2006 AHA Dietary & Lifestyle Recommendations, and 2005 AHA position on child nutrition as primary inputs.
"The Alliance maintained an open dialogue with participating and non-participating manufacturers, as well as relevant third-party associations and health advocates to vet the guidelines as they were developed," Thacker said. "We engaged in active dialogue with food manufacturers regarding what is a reasonable timetable for product introduction and reformulation."
In May, The Alliance announced that it had worked with representatives of Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and the American Beverage Association to establish new guidelines to limit portion sizes and reduce the number of calories available to children during the school day. Under these guidelines, only lower calorie and nutritious beverages will be sold to schools."
The American beverage industry created a school vending policy last year.
The Alliance is currently developing its approach to reimbursable school meals.
"This approach will work in concert with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's regulations and take into account the fact that these meals are planned by a food service or nutrition professional and are, effectively, price fixed according to USDA reimbursement rates," Thacker said.