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Stricter snack rules for schools due soon

| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 6:48 p.m.

WASHINGTON — After more than a year's delay, American schools will soon get new government rules targeting the kinds of snacks sold to students, a move nutritionists say could play an important role in fighting childhood obesity.

Schools have waited anxiously for more than a year to find out how sales of potato chips, candy bars, sodas and similar treats to students will be restricted. These rules on food sold outside traditional cafeteria meals are a key part of the first major overhaul on school food in more than three decades.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a Squirrel Hill native, recently said the rules on what snacks may be offered in vending machines, school stores and the like, originally due in late 2011, are expected to be finished in the early part of this year.

Officially, USDA said it expects the proposal by April, at which point a 60-day public comment period would kick in before final rules are issued — potentially for the 2013-14 school year.

Vilsack said the delay was in part to give food and drink manufacturers, as well as schools, time to adjust to a revamp of cafeteria breakfasts and lunches in early 2012.

Those earlier broad changes, dictating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables on school menus, led to complaints. USDA later gave schools more flexibility on the new menus.

Health advocates want the snack changes to include smaller portions, reduced fat and less sugar.

“We're not saying get rid of the vending machines. Just change what's in them,” said Margo Wootan, head of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group. “We, as parents, don't want our kids eating candy bars and Gatorade for lunch.”

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