WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today was joined by a bipartisan coalition in introducing legislation to improve students’ eating habits and improve children’s overall health.  The bipartisan Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act would update decades-old federal nutrition standards for snack foods sold in school cafeterias alongside the regular school meals, and would apply those standards everywhere on school grounds, including in vending machines and school stores.  

“Many American kids are at school for two meals a day.  But instead of a nutritious school breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria, they are enticed to eat Cheetos and a Snickers Bar from the vending machines in the hallway,” said Harkin.  “Junk food sales in schools are out of control.  It undercuts our investment in school meal programs, and steers kids toward a future of obesity and diet-related disease.  Congress cannot stand idly by while our kids are preyed upon by junk-food marketers.”

Current federal regulations limiting the sale of junk food in schools are very narrow and have not been updated in almost 30 years, despite major changes in nutritional science and other advances during that time.  What is more, though a narrow category of junk foods cannot be sold in certain areas of schools, even the prohibited junk foods can be sold anywhere else on-campus — including just outside the cafeteria — at any time.  As a result, junk food is for sale in nearly every single school in America.  According to Government Accountability Office (GAO), 99 percent of high schools, 97 percent of middle schools, and 83 percent of elementary schools have vending machines, school stores, or snack bars.  The most common items sold out of school vending machines, school stores, and snack bars include soda and sports drinks, salty snacks, candy, and high-fat baked goods.

The Harkin proposal would address both problems by requiring updated nutritional standards for all foods sold at school, and would apply those standards to all foods sold during the school day everywhere on schools grounds.

“USDA hasn’t updated their nutritional standards in thirty years.  Since that time, we’ve learned a lot from the scientific community about the risks that a poor diet has down the line for children and adolescents,” said Harkin.  “Today, for the first time ever, bipartisan legislation will be introduced in both chambers of Congress to address this problem — and to do what is right for the health of our kids.”

Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Lincoln Chaffee (R-RI) cosponsored the Senate measure.  The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Chris Shays (R-CT) in the House of Representatives earlier this year.  In addition, Harkin’s proposal has been endorsed by the American Medical Association (AMA), the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and other children’s health advocacy organizations.  

Harkin has been the Senate leader in federal efforts to combat the obesity epidemic by promoting wellness and healthy habits among adults and children.  Harkin is the author of the Harkin Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program which provides free, fresh fruits and vegetables to children in schools.  He is also the sponsor of the 2005 Healthy Lifestyles and Prevention (HeLP) America Act which focuses on prevention and wellness to confront our nation’s rise in chronic disease.